Fencing team thrives in the face of significant setbacks

Many people may not think of fencing when asked to list popular sports, since in America it is a more unusual pastime. At Lawrence, however, this group of people makes up one of the larger athletic teams on campus.  They have a strong representation in both genders and they compete with many other top schools around the nation.  At the same time, in the past year they have struggled to find a consistent coach or gather enough money to attend events further away.  The team is a unique part of campus with some big tournaments coming up, but they also face some challenges as a group.

The team has a rigorous practice schedule, like many other teams on campus, spanning for several hours most weekdays.  They practice in the Wellness Center, under conditions somewhat unideal for fencing. They struggle to find enough space, and don’t have official aisles or their own practice room.  This is why we do not host tournaments ourselves, though that is usually left to larger universities.

There is some discussion about moving the team to Alex, which should help with the issues. Either way, sophomore Katherine Ling says the team works hard together. She especially likes the communicative relationship between the men and women’s team: “Unlike most other teams who consider it a very individual sport, we all come together and yell ‘Vikes’ at the beginning of each tournament. It’s so powerful, and I know that all the guys will be behind us helping out while we compete.”  The women help the men, as well, and everyone works together as a group, helping everyone to improve.

It’s especially important on our fencing team, since their coach has been working in Canada for six weeks of the season. Their assistant coaches aren’t able to devote much time, either, due to the lack of funding for a full-time position.

Through an unfortunate course of events, much of the leadership has been taken on by the student captains, seniors Michael Friend and Mariah Wilkerson, and junior Drew Doares.  Ling says these individuals have really worked to successfully bring the team together. “They are so supportive and lead practices in a constructive way.”

On the other hand, senior Graham Jones is frustrated by the need for such strong captains. “The job they’ve been asked to take on is bigger than needed.  The captains have to make sure everyone shows up to practice and takes a lot of initiative, which is a lot on top of replacing the presence of a coach.”  These individuals have a huge responsibility to a team that is increasingly more significant to the Lawrence athletic spectrum. Luckily, there is some indication that some of the coaching problems will be sorted soon.

This upcoming weekend is conference for the fencing team, with regionals right after that. They will be headed to Notre Dame and Detroit Mercy, respectively.  The tournaments are often far away, which causes problems with funding. “We had to leave at 4 a.m. one morning last month because it was more reasonable to leave then and arrive on time than paying for an extra night in a hotel,” says Jones.  Especially without a consistent coach advocate, the team has not been able to attend many major competitions because of the financial burden of travelling so far.

Nonetheless, the team has made an impact at their events, with many players winning a high percentage of their bouts. It is the unity of the whole group that allows this team to succeed, and this will hopefully provide them more opportunities and attention from the administration in the future.