(Wellesley, MA) - The Sacred Heart Men's Fencing team clinched their second consecutive Northeast Fencing Conference championship with a perfect 5-0 day at Wellesley College Sunday afternoon. Stuart Holmes (Centereach, NY) and Marty Williams (Plainfield, NJ) led SHU with perfect 15-0 performances.
The day started off well with Sacred Heart defeating Boston University 26-1 and Dartmouth College 24-3. This set up the pivotal match of the day against Vassar College. The Brewers came in only one win behind the Pioneers, and a Vassar win would result in both teams sharing the title. While Sacred Heart defeated Vassar 17-10 on Dec 5th in a non-conference match, both teams came in today with key fencers out of their lineups. Vassar was missing their saber star Andrew Fischl and the Pioneers were missing starters Ryan O'Halloran (Garden City, NJ), Travis Pereira (Port Washington, NY), and Ethan Patterson (Greenville, NY). However, the depth of the Sacred Heart roster came through in this meet. The Pioneers got off to a decisive 7-2 first round lead on the strength of a sweep in saber and two wins each in foil and epee. Despite a strong Vassar comeback in the second round to close the score to 11-7, Sacred Heart took the final round by a 5-4 margin to seal a 16-11 victory. While Holmes in foil and Williams in saber both controlled their bouts and went 3-0, Sean Vilar (Miami, FL) also went 3-0 in replacing O'Halloran in the lineup. Other key performances were turned in by Jeremiah German (Pittsburgh, PA) beating Vassar's top two epeeists (Tavish Pegram and Zack Johnson) and by team captain Jim Roberts (North Haven, CT), who returned the to starting foil lineup and posted a 2-1 mark.
"We are very fortunate this season to have solid depth in all three weapons," said head coach Dr. Thomas Vrabel. "People have stepped up big when needed all season. This happened today when Roberts and Vilar went a combined 5-1 against Vassar. Vic Nieto injured his shoulder against BU and had a limited range of motion by the time of the Vassar match. This made Roberts' performance all the more important. It was also gratifying to see Jeremiah German step up and help out the epee squad in a big way. Vassar has a dominant epee squad and it was critical for us to get those three wins in epee today."
With the big win against Vassar secured, the coaching staff was concerned about a let down in focus for the remaining two matches. Despite a sluggish start against Tufts, some emphatic encouragement from the coaching staff woke the team up and they cruised to a 21-6 win over the Jumbos. The momentum continued in a dominant 25-2 performance against UMASS, which clinched the second consecutive undefeated Conference season for the Pioneers.
While Holmes in foil and Williams in epee both went 15-0 on the day, they were joined by other strong performance from Roberts (9-1) and Nieto (9-3) in foil, Dion (12-3) and German (11-4) in epee, and Vilar (8-2), CJ Fleck (7-1) and Peter Freiss (6-1) in saber. Williams finished the Conference season with an impressive 25-3 mark and posted the best winning percentage of any saber fencer in the conference. Holmes was 23-6 on the year and is also in the running for first team all league honors. Justin Dion had a 25-4 record and posted the second best epee performance behind Pegram of Vassar.
"This was a very gratifying conference season for us," said Dr. Vrabel. "Last year was our first championship and was of course very special. This year was probably a more difficult challenge because we were now on the radar screen in a big way and strong teams like Vassar, BC, and Brown were focused on beating us from day one. We were definitely better than the sum of our parts this season. We are still a young team and while losing Roberts, Quigley, and Puglisi to graduation will be hard, we have people ready to step up and a strong incoming freshmen class on the way. I think that we will be even more competitive next year and could be the team beat again next season in the Northeast Fencing Conference."
The Pioneers conclude their dual match season on Wednesday evening at NYU with matches against the Violets and the Columbia Lions. Competition for SHU will begin at 5 PM.