Montclair High foil specialist excels at Nationals
Courtesy Jennifer Brown
BY ANDREW GARDA
School may be out for summer and high school sports may be taking a little break, but for many MHS athletes, summer just means more grinding to get better.
That work can come in the form of club teams, summer leagues and even summer tournaments.
For MHS rising senior Alex Brown, the latter was what he was doing as he competed against high schoolers from around the country at the USA Fencing National Championships in Philadelphia on July 12. Really, he was doing more than just competing — he was excelling, as he finished in seventh place out of 141 foil fencers in the Division III Men’s Foil competition.
Brown, who is currently fencing at the Gutkovskiy Fencing Academy in Fair Lawn, said it was a tough competition, but he was really pleased with the outcome.
“I have competed in national tournaments before, but this is probably my best performance so far,” he said. “And medaling was really great.” The top eight in the event won medals.
In many ways, Brown’s success is just business as usual for the Mountie, who had a great 2021 season, compiling a 30-3 win-loss record, including a run of 16 bouts without a loss and a stretch of nine wins in a row to finish the season.
There’s a reason Brown made the All-State Second Team for foil.
While he was pleased with the outcome in Philadelphia, he felt there was still room for improvement.
“It was probably 50/50,” he said of how he felt about the four competitions he participated in. “I had two that I didn’t do as good, and the other two were pretty good. I’d say junior teams and Div Three [went] pretty well, I thought. The other two weren’t great, but I was able to recover and do [well] on the next day.”
Brown said it’s a big shift in mentality, going from high school meets where, especially at MHS, you have a large cheering section of teammates behind you, to a national competition where you are on your own.
Not having the cheering section you normally have can make it that much harder to overcome moments when a fencer is struggling.
“I think the key is just mainly to persevere,” he said. “Compete as much as you can to get better and just keep going. That day, specifically, I had a lot of problems physically, but I kept just pushing forward and doing my best.”
According to Brown, the key is having the right mind-set, especially when he is struggling. He said you have to stay locked in and almost tuck away physical injury or mental nerves.
“It’s very important mentally, so I just try to stay in my head fighting as much as I can,” he said. “Overcoming any nerves that I have, and I just keep pushing forward mentally. That allowed me to push further than I physically could without the same mentality.”
With Nationals out of the way, Brown will head back to Gutkovskiy and practice as summer slows down. Once fall arrives, there will be a more active level of competition leading into the winter season for MHS.
While he’s waiting for fall, Brown will do what many other people across the world will be doing and watch the Tokyo Olympics. He’s excited for the Team USA men’s fencing squad and feels they could really perform well.
Of course, as a foil fencer, Brown will most closely watch the foil matches.
“Team USA can definitely do very [well],” he said. “We are very well ranked for men’s foil. We have, I think, four people in the top eight, so I’m most looking forward to watching them and hoping that they succeed.”
Brown has met Olympian Alexander Massialas, when the latter coached a fencer he was facing on the strip.
“It was a fun experience to see him,” he said.
Brown has fenced all three weapons — foil, epee and saber — but it’s foil that he has loved the most.
“When I tried [foil] out, I found it the most enjoyable, [because] I liked the speed and accuracy required for it,” he said. “It’s important to balance everything as well as you can, in foil especially.”
This year graduating senior George Buccino, along with rising sophomores Mitchell O’Keefe and Lucas Gilson, were at Nationals along with Brown, who would love to see more Mounties there in the future.
“I thought it was just an overall great experience,” he said. “I hope that more of our underclassmen can get the chance to do it in a future off-season.”