Montclair fencing led by Gilson has strong showing at state individual tournament
A Montclair junior highlighted the success of the Mounties team in the recent state individual fencing tournament.
In the boys saber competition, Luke Gilson (25-5 for the regular season) needed to go to a tiebreaker to defeat Morris Catholic's Allen Trudnos at Bernards High School on Feb. 26.
Both Gilson and Trudnos finished 5-2 in the medal round robin, setting up the tiebreaker.
Gilson would bring home the gold with a 5-4 victory over Trudnos that handed him the state boys saber championship.
“I’m very proud of myself and of everyone that helped me,” he said. “We showed everyone that Montclair is still here. Our team is composed of a whole bunch of very, very talented fencers.”
Coming into the state individual competition, Gilson understood that he was going to have to claw his way to the top. “I knew this tournament was going to be harder,” he said. “All the best fencers were going to be there.”
Along with Gilson, four other Montclair fencers qualified for the state individual finals: sophomore Sela Feig (12-4), junior Mitchell O’Keefe (28-2) and freshman Mya Spears (16-4), who all compete in saber, and freshman Nile Brunson (25-3), who competes in epee.
After Gilson, Spears had the best finish, with a third place on the girls side, having finished with a 4-3 mark in the round robin.
On the boys side after Gilson, O'Keefe compiled a 4-3 mark in the round robin to take fourth place.
Feig and Brunson each came in sixth in the girls saber and epee round robins, going 4-3 and 2-5 respectively.
“We have a lot of really strong fencers on this team,” head coach Donovan Holtz said. “They did what they had to do. I was really happy with all the victories.”
For Montclair it was a far cry from last season and from the recent history of the Mounties fencing program.
“I am not sure when the last time five people from Montclair made it,” Holtz said. “Last year, no one made the top eight. Let's start there. It’s another testament to how hard” the individual state tournament is.
The top 40 fencers in the state in each weapon, girls and boys, were at the state individual tournament. All five of the Montclair fencers reached the medal round, the final eight.
“In fencing, it’s about top eight,” Holtz said. “Everything after that is gravy. It’s a fencing thing. No matter how many tournaments you go to at any level, the marker is top eight across the board, for everything except the Olympics. It’s a huge, huge, huge deal.”
The coach’s attention has now turned to improving the team’s overall performance for next year. The boys team did not qualify for the state tournament. The girls team lost in the round of 16 at states.
“Individually, everybody can do great, but as a coach, my job is to put all the pieces together,” Holtz said.
Montclair will have the chance to improve upon its team performances next year. Most of its starters are going to return, including all five fencers who competed at the individual state tournament.
Holtz is impressed by how his team is already approaching next year. He feels they have a better understanding of what commitments are needed to win.
“The team actually came to me,” he said. “They called their own team meeting to talk about winning as a team. They definitely get it.”
The 2023-24 season will be a critical opportunity for the boys team.
“My entire saber squad is going to be seniors, and my entire foil squad is going to be seniors,” Holtz said.
Gilson said the boys are aware of the potential they have.
“We are definitely focusing on next year,” he said. “Next year is going to be our year. Most of us are going to be seniors.
“We really have to push for it next year. We know we can do better. I don’t know exactly what happened, but I don’t think we lived up to our potential this year.”
The girls team is younger than the boys team, but next year will be a crucial chance for them as well because of how promising they’ve been as underclassmen.
Holtz believes all of this year’s competitive experiences will help the whole team grow.
“It’s about competition,” the coach said. “The more you compete, the more comfortable you are in competition. All the little things, where they get iffy or nervous, can be dealt with.
“Competition helps you deal with your emotions. It helps you get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. It extends completely past fencing.”