Before the start of each season, the Owls’ fencing coaching staff pairs incoming freshmen fencers with an upperclassman assigned to a different weapon.
Used as a way to help freshmen with their transition into college, the tradition has cultivated many friendships, like that of junior Olivia Wynn and sophomore Victoria Suber.
“[The upperclassmen] will guide them through the beginning of their collegiate experience,” coach Anastasia Ferdman said. “If they have any questions about school or about the team, you will have that big sister to turn to and ask those questions.”
With a shortage of upperclassmen last season, some of the sophomores were designated as “big sisters” to Class of 2017 freshmen like Suber. For much of her sophomore year, Wynn, who duels with the foil weapon, was responsible for the sabre-wielding Suber, both on and off the strip.
“If you are late [for practice], your big sister gets in trouble, too,” Wynn said.
Last May, the coaching staff asked Wynn to switch from foil – her weapon of six years – to sabre.
“It’s like telling a sprinter, ‘You know what, we need people to run the 3-mile,’” Wynn said, laughing.
Losing two sabrists to graduation and standout senior sabrist Tiki Kastor to academic ineligibility, the fencing team needed to fill the position. As one of the team’s four active sabrists, Wynn switched for the opportunity to compete earlier in her career.
During the summer, Wynn began to get accustomed to the new sabre weapon, which she had never used before. With the different weapons comes different target areas in competitions. As a foilist, fencers can target the torso only, but sabre fencers can hit the arms, wrists, head and torso they are usually on the attack.
Wynn said she got much of the basics down during the summer as she trained at the same fencing club where Ferdman coaches during the summer in New Jersey. Along with the different target areas, Wynn had to get used to the intensity of the game when the fencing preseason started last fall.
“Sabre is so much faster than foil,” Wynn said. “Foil you can go up and down the strip, decide when you want to make your move. You have more time to set up your attack. Whereas sabre, you have no time. You just need to hit the other person first and to know what you want to do before the director says ‘Ready, fence.’”
“That was very difficult for me to do because I would like to see what happens and there is no time to see what happens in sabre,” Wynn said. You have to have a decision and go through with it, or else you are going to fail.”
Much of the adjustment came with the help of Suber, who switched weapons three years prior.
“I could sympathize with what she was going through, transitioning from foil to sabre,” Suber said.
At the beginning of the fall, Wynn said she would confuse some of her foilist techniques like flèche, where foil fencers cross their feet during competition, which is not allowed as a sabre fencer.
While Suber said the technique confusions are no longer an issue, Wynn admits she needs to improve her fencing style and how she uses the weapon. While foilists hit with the tip of the weapon, sabre fencers really don’t need to because the entire weapon is electric and can use any part of the weapon to pick up points.
Although Wynn has only been using the sabre weapon for about six months, both her teammates and coaching staff have said she has made stride. That was evident during the Philadelphia Invitational on Jan. 24, when Wynn left with an individual record of 4-2.
“[Wynn] really has come a long way,” Suber said.
Danielle Nelson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Dan_Nels