As Olivia Wynn began her junior year in 2014, she made a decision off the strip that would benefit her team as a whole.
Wynn, now a senior, changed weapons from foil to sabre, a blade she previously never used.
“Last year, I was fencing basically to save my life,” Wynn said. “Almost everything was instinct.”
Coach Nikki Franke asked Wynn, who spent her first two years competing in foil, to make the transition to sabre last fall due to a shortage of athletes at the weapon.
“We gave her the option if she wanted to try it,” Franke said. “She seemed to be very well-suited for sabre. At the end of the fall, she said she preferred it.”
On the roster last year, the team had seven foils and four sabres, which influenced Wynn to move to the new weapon.
Because of Wynn’s adjustment and the addition of several freshmen, the team’s 2015-16 roster is more balanced. There are six sabres, including Wynn, five epees and six foils.
“It wasn’t my first choice,” Wynn said. “We had enough sabres, but if one got injured, it would have been really tight. Nobody would have had a break.”
For the last seven years before the switch, Wynn only fenced foil. She attempted epee on the strip, but never competed with it.
When Wynn switched to sabre, she thought it was going to be a short-term transition to help the team.
“Whenever I watched it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I would never want to do that,’” Wynn said. “I was always saying I would switch back to foil and that this was just temporary.”
The difference between the sabre and the foil is that in sabre opponents can score by using the edge of their blade and point. Anything above the waist is a target area for an opponent to slash, while in foil, points are scored from the tip of the blade from around the torso and groin.
The presentation of the sabre has a slight curve to its blade, while the foil has a rectangular blade and weighs less than a pound.
“I’m pretty fast, and I think my speed has really helped me adapt,” Wynn said. “I didn’t like the blade coming near my head. I wasn’t used to just seeing a weapon coming at you instinctually. Sabre is just so fast, and you don’t really get a break, and you have to know what to do.”
Wynn posted 29-14 dual meet record in sabre last year after going 17-10 in foil at dual meets during the 2013-14 season.
As Wynn adjusted to her new weapon, she did not produce her best result until the end of the 2014-15 season at the National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association Championship Feb. 28, where she was a finalist and finished eighth overall. As a sophomore, she had an eighth place finish in foil at the tournament.
Franke said the senior, now a year into sabre, will continue to improve her results before the end of her final season.
“She has a very good understanding of the game, and it was just a matter of her learning the new nuances as opposed to foil,” Franke said. “She’s going to definitely be better this year than she was last year.”
Before she steps off the strip for the final time as an Owl next March, Wynn hopes to earn an individual win in sabre.
“It’s weird,” Wynn said. “I never thought I would like sabre.”
Mark McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MarkJMcCormick.