Getting to know Lawrence Fencing

One of the most unique aspects of the athletic department is that it supports a fencing team. Lawrence is one of the only small liberal arts colleges that has a fencing team, making it another part of the one-of-a-kind Lawrence experience. The team has seven men and eight women on their roster from across the United States and the world, from California, China, Germany and close by in Minnesota to name a few. They are coached by Michael Hall who came to Lawrence from the United States Air Force Academy in the 2016-2017 academic year.

For many people on the Lawrence campus, even well-seasoned members of the athletic department, fencing is something that is unfamiliar to them. I asked junior fencer Carson Becker about fencing and she said, “The first thing to know about fencing is that it’s much more complex than just trying to poke or stab the other person— a lot of fencing is a complicated mental game.”

There are three different weapons: foil, epée and sabre, which each come with their own rules. “In foil, you can only hit the torso with the point of the blade. In epée, the entire body is a target (so head, arms, feet, everything!). In sabre, only the head, arms and torso are target, and you can use the side of the blade— this ‘slashing’ motion is unique to sabre,” explained Becker.

Fencers face off with opponents individually in open tournaments, which is called a bout. “A typical bout lasts three minutes and goes up to five touches, so the first fencer to get five touches (points) wins. In individual fencing, tournaments are set up so fencers are separated into groups of typically five or six and everyone fences everyone within their small group (these are called pools). Everyone in the event is re-ranked after pools, and a direct elimination tableau is set up. These bouts are 15 touches, separated into three 3-minute periods. “Once you lose one of these bouts, you’re out,” added Becker.

The Lawrence fencing team competes in the Midwest Fencing Conference, so while they are not a Division-I fencing program, their conference features Division-I programs like Ohio State and Northwestern as well as club fencing teams from schools like the University of Minnesota, the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa. “At certain tournaments we also fence Stanford, Princeton, Penn State, Caltech and way more— we are a small fish in a big pond, but we try our best!” said Becker.

Fencing as a college team is slightly different than individual open tournaments. Becker explains this saying, “Collegiate team fencing is a bit different in that there are no 15-touch bouts, only groups of five-touch bouts. Victories are cumulative, meaning that the first school to reach five total victories wins against the opponent school. The bouts are still individual (one person fencing one person), but each victory adds to the total amount of victories for the school.” This means that fencing is an individual sport, but it also features a huge team component, as they win and lose together and for one another.

This upcoming weekend, October 27 and 28, is big for Lawrence fencing, as they are hosting their one and only tournament of the year. On Saturday the 27th, they will host the Lawrence Duals starting at noon in the Wellness Center. This is a collegiate competition that will feature college teams from around the Midwest. Then, on Sunday the 28th, they host the Lawrence Open, which is an individual tournament that will feature fencers from around the Fox Valley of all different ages. The team would love to see students out supporting them at the tournament. Additionally, they are more than willing to answer questions about their sport, so don’t be afraid to reach out to any of the fencers with questions.

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