Montclair fencers battle hard but stumble against McNair
By ANDREW GARDA
In its last meet of 2021, the Montclair High School fencing team fell just short against McNair Academic High School, with the girls losing 16-11 and the boys losing 14-13.
The girls now have an overall record of 1-4 while the boys' record stands at 2-3.
Against McNair, the boys led 5-4 after the first round, with senior foil Alex Brown leading the way. Brown, who would finish the evening with two wins in two bouts, showed his usual quickness in his first win, and by the end of the night had improved his individual record to 11-3 for the season.
McNair kept fighting though, keeping the match close, and after two rounds, MHS still held only a slim 10-8 lead.
In the third round, McNair seemed to get the best of the Mounties, pulling to within one point as the two teams entered the epee portion of the third round. First, McNair substituted in Krishan Bhakta for Alexander McGreevy, who had lost his first two bouts. He faced Alejandro Kaplan and overcame the senior to pull the match even.
Then, junior Simon Garda faced sophomore Padick Loyola-Torriente, who has lost just one bout so far this year. While Garda hung on, Loyola-Torriente had a little too much reach on his thrusts and could hit the junior from a further away, giving him the advantage and, eventually, the winning point.
For the Mountie girls, the story was reversed. McNair jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the first round, but MHS didn't falter and, led by boisterous freshman epee Nile Brunson, began chipping away at the McNair lead. Brunson's high energy buoyed the team, and whether she was celebrating one of her three victories of the night or cheering on her teammates, her enthusiasm definitely kept the team believing.
But McNair had built up too much of a lead, and while MHS fought hard to the end, the girls also fell to the visiting team.
For the girls, this season has been one of rebuilding. It is a tall order to replace seniors who graduated such as Georgia Chen (foil), and the Mutakabbir triplets — Nzinga (saber), Assata (foil) and especially Amira (epee), who went 26-6 her senior year — and it takes time. Currently, 24 members of the 33-woman squad are sophomores or freshmen, and even the sophomores didn't get as much experience as they might have normally last year due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions that limited the size of traveling groups and members practicing at any time.
The upside, though, is that next year, the team will have a deep well of talent with experience. The fencers may be experiencing some bumps in the road, but they continue to improve.
While the boys also have a young team, they may be their own worst enemies. Early on against McNair, the boys had some chances to create a lot more distance between themselves and the opposition but weren't able to press their advantage. They battled hard but may have made things tougher for themselves than they needed to.
During a quad meet on Saturday, Dec. 18, the Mountie boys jumped out to a 7-2 lead against Livingston, and dominated the Lancers from beginning to end, winning 19-8. They did much the same thing to Columbia, taking the first round 6-3, and while the Cougars battled back in the second, closing the gap to 5-4 that round, they stamped out the comeback with a 6-3 third round to win 17-10.
The third team they faced that day, Millburn, took a 6-3 lead in the first round, so while MHS came back to take the second round 5-4, they had dug themselves too big a hole and eventually lost 17-10.
Like most students, the Mounties are now on Christmas break, but when they return they will have a very winnable match against Montclair Kimberley Academy at home on Jan. 4, before a tough matchup at home on Jan. 11 against Governor Livingston High School.
The author of this article, Andrew Garda, is the father of fencer Simon Garda.