The New Paltz fencing club has quietly had a successful season this semester – sending three fencers to the Junior Olympics in Dallas, TX and bringing home six medals in five tournaments.
The club, which started as a class to fulfill a physical education requirement for graduation, has evolved over the past decade into a “focused” and “dynamic” team.
“The first word that honestly comes to mind is ‘scrappy,’ in a good way,” said second-year Stephanie Zabinski. “Most other teams are much more well-funded and professionally run, with better equipment, but we make do with what we have, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”
Zabinski believed the highlight of the club’s season was the Hudson Valley Invitational held at Vassar College.
Fencing Head Coach Bill Parco said that while the club’s Women’s Epee team lost to Vassar by one point, and the Men’s Sabre team lost to Marist by two points at the tournament, he sees the team developing in the right direction.
“We didn’t win, but watching them fight – I was reminded about what I love about this sport,” Parco said. “They didn’t lose hope the entire day and kept fighting regardless of what the outcome looked like.”
The team, which Zabinski described as “mostly freshmen” is young and raw, but has been making strides in becoming a strong team despite obstacles.
Zabinski and Parco both said the team’s biggest difficulty is the difference in funding and space when compared to other teams they play.
Fencing is a recreational sport at New Paltz, and because of this, Zabinski said the club does not receive funding from the sports department like other school’s fencing teams do.
“We’re definitely unique,” Zabinski said. “We are strong despite our shortcomings.”
Zabinski said she is confident that despite the gaps in talent when compared to “professional schools,” the team members “can really give the other schools a run for their money.”
One of the players Zabinski believes has stood out for the fencing club has been Torian Brackett. Zabinski said she believes Brackett has a “gift” for fencing and has made it to the finals in recent tournaments. Brackett is one of the three members of the team who has qualified for the Junior Olypics in February.
According to Parco, the team used to practice in Elting Gym’s general purpose room, but because of padding being added to the floor, the room is no longer suitable for the team’s practices.
“We have had to make do with what ever space was available,” Parco said. “Our fencers have the drive and talent to be a strong example of what New Paltz can do. They just need some support.”
Despite the obstacles that have hindered the team, the members continue to work and as Zabinski said, “have fun.”
Zabinski said that she believes the team’s biggest strength has been the team’s chemistry and friendship with one another.
“We’ve all become fast friends,” Zabinski said. “We have a lot of fun together … We work together to teach each other when our coach is busy with one-on-ones during meetings.”
As the younger players on the team gain experience, the team hopes to take the next step in the future.
“They love their sport and have fun with it,” Parco said. “What more can a coach ask?”