By Marc Longo
Western fencing overcame some obstacles this season to keep the competition at blade’s length.
Though the team lacked recognition early on, it gathered momentum at just the right time and has medals to show for it. The men’s team dominated the Ontario University Athletics championships, placing first overall and going unbeaten in team foil and sabre. The team was second in epee, as team MVP David Collins won individual gold in his final year with the team.
“At the beginning of the year I knew we had some excellent fencers,” said coach Carol Christie. “[There are] a lot of returning people, a lot of people coming in with experience and a lot of people who had started with the team and are now in their senior year.”
Expectations were raised this season; the coaches saw the team’s progression recently and stepped up the intensity to win.
“You can have a bad day or you can have a good day and everything can come together for you,” Collins said after returning from the OUAs with his medals and the Charles Walter Trophy.
On the other hand, the women’s results were somewhat disappointing. The Mustangs failed to medal after all teams qualified for the OUAs.
“They’re better than what the results show,” Christie said. “With the way they fenced at RMC, at Carleton and at the West qualifiers, we were expecting the women to medal.”
Women’s team MVP Susan Evans came close. She entered the OUAs ranked second overall in the West division but lost narrowly in the elimination round.
“Essentially, I came up short by one point in overtime,” Evans said.
Overall, the team’s success has not come easily. It has succeeded despite a disparity in funding from other schools it competes against.
“I think we’re always the underdog, we’re always going to be the underdog,” said coach Brad Winder. “Every team in the OUA that we competed against has either got their own facility to fence in, or paid coaches to work with.
“We do the best we can with what we’ve got, and right now it’s going really well because the fencers push themselves.”
Christie has tried to keep up with new training techniques to bridge the resource gap. She attended a coaching conference at Western aimed at improving the way varsity coaches lead training.
“Based on the research [presented], we changed the focus of our practice, because we used to train really hard up at the front,” she said. “We started doing our technical training first [after warming up], and we drilled them at the end.”
In addition, the team has increased the number of in-house tournaments it holds. The tournaments sharpen the fencers’ skills and help maintain mental focus during competition.
“[Against lesser opponents] there’s been a reluctance to thrash them mercilessly,” Christie said. “They don’t want to do that, they hesitate and, consequently, they end up losing some points to people that they should just tromp.”
For her efforts, Christie earned OUA coach of the year honours, a first for her and Western fencing.
“The fact that we fielded a complete team is our first [goal]; the second is to have all of our teams qualify for the championship, and we did that,” Christie said.
“[Opposing coaches] are recognizing — even through the problems that we’ve had — we’re still here, we’re still fighting. To walk away with four very prestigious medals proves that we’re not in the fringes — we’re in the game.”
Team membership has been on the rise and, with many returnees, Christie believes the fencers are positioned to begin next season as strong as ever.
“I’m counting on the women to show their stuff next year. This year they could have done it, but next year I think they will do it.”