By ANDREW GARDA
garda@montclairlocal.news

MONTCLAIR — The Montclair High School boys fencing team (5-3) finished off a very successful week on Friday, Jan. 14, as they took an early lead against visiting St. Benedict's (0-2) and ran away for the win by a score of 17-10. 

In truth the match wasn’t even that close, as Montclair clinched the win in the second round with its 14th point while St. Benedict’s had just 4. The rest of MHS’ bouts came as they subbed in bench players to give them some experience after the match was clinched. 

The Mounties had a little extra to celebrate, too, as their brand-new metal strip arrived the same day, almost two years after it was ordered. The boys were excited to break it in, and christened it with a big win.

It was the third straight dominant win for the boys, who beat Governor Livingston 20-7 on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and Oratory 21-6 on Thursday, Jan. 13. All told, including work by the substituted fencers, MHS outscored its opponents 58-23.

Despite those lopsided numbers, MHS coach Donovan Holtz said there is room to improve before the upcoming district championships and, beyond that, the states.

“I always see the things we still need to work on,” he said after Friday’s win. “We basically subbed everybody, but there were one or two people I left in late just so they could get extra bouts. We’ve basically been clinching (wins) late, but at least with this week we’ve been clinching before our guys are fencing two bouts.”

Previously, Holtz had been feeling that the boys were not pushing hard enough early and putting themselves in a position to have to fight hard late. Now, though, he is seeing the aggression the team needs show up immediately. 

An early clinch gives him and the rest of the coaches — Shakil Uddin (foil), Julie Carlsen (saber) and Jared Pershad (foil) — a chance to get newer fencers a taste of competition, although they know that they need to keep their starters sharp with district and state competitions coming up.

It’s a fine balance.

“For me, getting ready for districts is very, very important,” Holtz said. “If we’re not going to be practicing, we’re having meets. They have to get those days in. I like that we’re winning. I like to get everyone experienced, but I want to, I have to, do right by everyone. I’ve got to get my top guys ready for districts while giving my young guys a taste just to keep the team going.”

Montclair’s victory over St. Benedict’s was a full team effort, with saber going 7-2 and both foil and epee posting 5-4 bout records.

The saber fencers were led by senior Sam Zichelli and sophomores Lucas Gilson and Mitchell O’Keefe, all of whom went 2-0 before being subbed out, with sophomore Jackson Hsieh, senior James Visconti and freshman Matthew Friedberg stepping in. Hsieh won his bout, while Visconti and Friedberg had close losses. 

Gilson has a 17-4 record for the season, with O’Keefe putting together a 16-5 record and Zichelli being 12-9 so far.

Foil continued its strong season as well, with the starters — senior Alexander Brown, junior Caleb Blim and sophomore Charles Moroze — going 5-2. Moroze and Blim stepped aside for freshman Dacian Porutiu and sophomore Benjamin Guzik.

Brown finished last year with a 30-3 record and is well on his way to another massive season, as he sits at 19-3 to date.  He was only touched once Friday night, and it was the first time any opposing fencer had scored on him in several matches. Brown’s length and speed is hard for any fencer to compete with, and when you add in his technical prowess, other teams just have to hope they can work around the dangerous senior.

The epee squad was led by senior Jordan Sawadogo, who finished the night with a 2-1 record. Behind him was fellow senior Alejandro Kaplan and junior Simon Garda, both of whom went 1-1 for the evening.

Sophomore Milind Sinha Roy and freshman Diego Aguirre subbed in for Kaplan and Garda once the meet was in hand.

MHS senior epee Jordan Sawadogo scores a point against St. Benedict’s during Montclair’s third straight victory last Friday, Jan. 14.
ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
MHS senior epee Jordan Sawadogo scores a point against St. Benedict’s during Montclair’s third straight victory last Friday, Jan. 14.
ANDREW GARDA/STAFF
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The boys are a solid mix of upperclassmen and younger fencers, and weeks like this, when the team wins so overwhelmingly and early, allows the coaching staff to get the younger fencers ready for next year and beyond.

Only five fencers on the boys roster of 33 are seniors, so this is a team that looks like it has a bright future ahead of it, even as it performs well now.

While the boys seem to be peaking, the girls are doing a little rebuilding. 

Neither St. Benedict’s nor Oratory fielded girls teams, so the ladies (1-5) were idle after they fell in a close one to Governor Livingston, 15-12. The girls roster has 32 members, only four of whom are seniors.

Ava Ianuale (saber), Cara Ianuale (foil), Anna Bauer (foil) and Sophie Miller (foil) have stayed with the program through thick and thin, but they are only four fencers — and none of them fences epee — so there are a lot of new fresh faces on the strip. 

Sophomore Addie Godspeed-Moses, junior Olivia Law and freshman Gabriela Kaplan have taken many of the starts at saber for the girls, with Ianuale, sophomore Daniela Pittman and freshman Samantha Youn stepping in as well.

Foils Bauer and Miller are joined as starters most often by junior Jenna Uthman. Cara Ianuale and sophomores Robbie Rechtschaffer and Anisa Uddin sub in behind them. 

With no seniors on epee, Holtz has tried a lot of different fencers as starters and moved them around the A-strip, B-strip, C-strip order. Junior Kali Tolles has a ton of experience from previous years, and Holtz has leaned on her the most. 

Behind her are a lot of fencers learning their craft, all of them young. There are two sophomores — Maggie Demaria and Cecilia Martinez — and four freshmen — Nile Brunson, Maya Dejean, Nora Koehlert and Zoe Moon — to round out the squad. Most have fenced between eight and 10 bouts. The freshmen of course have never stepped on a strip for MHS before this season, but sophomore Martinez saw action in five bouts for MHS last year. It is sophomore Demaria’s first year competing with the team on the varsity level.

All the freshmen and sophomores will get experience in the upcoming freshman-sophomore tournament, but for the girls, they’ll be getting a lot of experience before then, with plenty of in-season action left to go. 

It may be a bit bumpy this year, but with so many young fencers on both teams, the future for Mountie fencing continues to look bright.