“We’d be lucky to come in second,” girls’ fencing coach Joel Winston said, prior to the start of the season. Luck seems to have been on the team’s side during this year’s playoffs at Townsend Harris High School on Sunday, May 6. Stuyvesant came in second place, losing only to its long-time rivals: the Hunter College High School Hawks.
“We were determined to win and even came to school to practice the Saturday before playoffs,” senior Cheng Ma said.
Stuyvesant went into the playoffs with a new determination and drive that was evident as it managed to not be eliminated in the first round of the direct elimination bracket for the first time since 2009. Stuyvesant’s third-seed foil team and fourth-seed epee team both got a bye in the first round of the playoffs, along with other top-ranked teams, and went on to win the second and third place positions, respectively, giving Stuyvesant second place overall.
Stuyvesant’s foil team faced sixth seed Brooklyn Tech in the quarterfinals, with senior and co-captain Sophia Chen, Ma, and junior Christina Zeng fencing for all three rounds. The trio dominated, winning all nine bouts and giving up only fifteen points.
Stuyvesant went on to face second seed Tottenville in the semifinal round and, in a very close match, beat the higher ranked team, winning by only four touches. Ma won all three of her bouts and Chen won two. “[Chen] really pulled through for us. In the last bout, we were behind, and then she caught up and won it to bring us into the finals. It was amazing,” Zeng said.
Already surpassing its expectations, the foil team found itself in the final round against the Hawks, the source of its only two losses all season. However, Stuyvesant wasn’t able to put up much of a fight against its rivals, as Chen was the lone Stuyvesant fencer to win her bout. She got in only two touches but was able to close out the win because the clock ran out.
Hunter used fewer substitutions during the match than it had during the regular season, only subbing in senior Emilia Dwyer to relieve sophomore Grace Wong. Stuyvesant had its first substitution of the tournament in this final match, replacing Zeng with former starter senior Bernice Chan. Despite the fresh fencer, Stuyvesant still lost with a disappointing 16 touches to Hunter’s 45.
The Stuyvesant epee team suffered a similar fate to its counterpart. After an easy win over fifth seed Benjamin Cardozo High School, who went undefeated in the regular season but was only able to get 17 touches on Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant’s epee team was eliminated during its second match. The team, consisting of senior and co-captain Yin Yin Wu, junior Norine Chan, and sophomore Julia Mendelsohn, found itself in the semifinals against Hunter’s powerhouse epee team, prematurely facing its rival because of its initial fourth seed. The trio put up a stronger fight against the Hawks than their foil counterparts, losing by only three touches and, more importantly, not allowing the Hawks to get the maximum score of 45.
“We didn’t expect to win, but we definitely put up a fight, and it was a close game. I’m proud to say we made them sweat for those 44 points,” Wu said. “We only lost by three points, which is pretty awesome considering that they have two nationally ranked starters, Olivia Briffault and Katherine Miller, while we have none.”
Less than a week before the playoffs, Wu had victories over both Briffault and Miller during a regular season match against Hunter. She won 8-5 and 5-1, respectively. This was a very laudable performance by Wu, considering she had only joined the team her sophomore year and began fencing epee her junior year.
Wu hopes to continue fencing for New York University’s fencing team, and she plans on competing in non-PSAL tournaments. “At these tournaments, you can get a letter from A to E, A being the highest. [Miller] is an A, and [Briffault] is a C. I hope to be on their level,” Wu said.
Though the eventual third-place epee team was eliminated before it could get to the final round, it earned more touches against Hunter than did any other team in the tournament, including the second-place epee team from LaGuardia. The points earned from the touches in both foil and epee were combined to rank the teams as a whole. The strength of the epee team came into play here when points from its semifinal match pushed the Stuyvesant team into second place for the PSAL city championship—only 12 points ahead of Laguardia and 12 points behind Hunter.
“We were so close this year because we worked really hard,” Zeng said. “I would love to see us in first place next year, and I feel that if we work even harder next year, we’re well within our ability to do so.”
While the underclassmen are looking forward to next season, the seniors are not done with high school fencing just yet. All four seniors—Chen, Chan, Ma and Wu—qualified for the PSAL Individual Championship on Sunday, May 20. “I haven’t won gold yet,” Wu said. “I’ve got all the other colors, but I want to win gold.”
In addition to the seniors, the remaining starters on the team—Chan, Mendelsohn, and Zeng—qualified, as well. The abundance of qualifiers verifies the strong season that the Stuyvesant fencing team has had this year.
“I think this season has been the best one since I got on the team sophomore year,” Ma said. “We definitely had the best team spirit and fought to the last second at the playoffs.”