by Andrew Garda

There’s little fencing at the start of the Montclair High School preseason fencing practices. If that sounds a bit incongruous, head coach Ed Chang said that the coaches are trying to make sure their team remembers that they are athletes as just as much as anyone who plays any other sport at the school.

“We have to keep reminding them, they are athletes now, it’s not just for fun, it’s not like what you see in the movies,” he said as half the team ran past in the hallway. “Fencing is an Olympic sport, and all the Olympic athletes train the same. They are at a high level of competition, and while we aren’t there [at that level] we are competitive athletes. So, we we want to make sure we treat our bodies right and continue to make progress at that.”

With half of the team running in the hallways in between repetitions of low planks — a core building exercise where an athlete is in push-up position, but propped up on their forearms rather than their hands — and the other half doing wall-sits, it’s pretty evident that the team is well aware of how physical their coaches expect them to be.

The approach paid off last year, as the program had a very successful season including district championships in epee for both boys and girls teams.

While the team as a whole graduated some very talented fencers, such as dominating epee fencer Amina Troupe and Ben Sherwin, who walked onto the epee team at Columbia University, Chang said the Mounties return nearly intact.

“On all our winning teams we still have two-thirds of the team,” Chang said. “So we’re just looking to tune them up and find that third member of the squad and continue what we’ve been doing.”

It starts with the girls epee title defense. Amira Mutakabbir and Clara Mendoza were freshmen last year, but they were very successful even without much experience. Now they have been working hard all offseason in preparation for what should be a challenging season.

MHS defending District Champion boys epee  will be led by Brian Roseboro and Alex Moyse, two seniors who will try and continue the momentum they and Sherwin built last season.

“They’ve been tracking his progress as well and getting inspired by that as they prepare to get ready for college and potentially fence,” Chang said.

Both epee units will be looking for their third fencer over the next few weeks.

Chang said that girls saber has been close to winning a title for several years now. Juniors Grace Van Atta and Grace Edgington have been mainstays of the discipline since arriving at Montclair High School and that won’t change this year.

“Grace Van Atta is always our kind of anchor, she’s the most experienced, she’s one we can rely on, for skill and expertise,” Chang said. “Grace Edginton has more spirit and energy, Van Aatta is more skill.”

Senior Emily Hand rounds out this group, and while she’s not as accomplished as Van Atta and Edginton, she’s worked hard, and Chang really expects to see her improve this year.

For boys saber, juniors Charlie Blim and Charlie Weis have been training hard this offseason, Chang said, and will be joined by returning senior George Bivens.

A fencer with a national profile, Bivens hasn’t fenced for MHS since his freshman year, but made adjustments to his out-of-school schedule so he could come back this season.

“He likes to be here, he likes to be with all the other high school kids and so we love to give him an opportunity to round out that squad as well.”

Chang feels that the place where the team has the most work to do is with the foil fencers.

“Foil is always a work in progress, but we’ve got a lot of kids coming in,” Chang said. “A couple of freshmen boys, coming in with some experience who will hopefully help solidify the boys foil squad. Lee [Meyers] is a senior, he will be our anchor. For girls foil, it’s Lila Zimbalist, and it’s Georgia Chen. They did fantastic again last year, and then we’re looking for that third spot and see who can fill out that squad for us.’

Chang said many of the final spots at each discipline will likely be filled in the upcoming quad meet with Livingston, Columbia and Millburn on Dec. 15.

“We like to start hard, we want to get the kids ready for a challenge right off the bat,” Chang said. “We want to start them competitively and we want them to get into that competitive type mode, right away.”