Sacred Heart University Fencing's team competition season concluded this weekend with major victories by the program. On Saturday, SHU won the NEIFC men's team title, the foil squad title, the saber squad title, the Silvio Vitale Cup (foil squad 29-0) for the third consecutive season, the individual foil championship by Stuart Holmes and the individual saber championship by Marty Williams.
The foil squad of team captain Stuart Holmes, Andrew Holmes, Jonathan Jacovino started out the day's action by going undefeated in foil competition. The key match was when the Pioneers swept Brandeis by three 5-4 margins. The epee squad finished third behind a strong performance from freshman Khris White and solid performances by Justin Dion and Mike Fenech. SHU built up a four-win margin over second place Brandeis going in to the afternoon's saber competition. The saber squad rose to the challenge by going 2-1 against Brandeis and Boston College and won the saber competition by a slim 24-23 margin over Brandeis. This gave the Pioneers 83 wins, a finish of five victories better than second place Brandeis. The strong fourth-place finish of the women's team combined with the men's outstanding performance secured for the Pioneers their first ever Mens and Womens combined NEIFC Title.
All nine SHU starters qualified for the individual championship competition. The trio of Holmes, Holmes, and Jacovino all made it to the final round of six where Stuart and Andrew Holmes tied for first with 4-1 records and Jacovino finished sixth with a 2-3 mark. In a highly competitive fence-off for first place, team captain Stuart Holmes defeated Andrew Holmes 5-3 for the individual foil title. In epee, junior standout Mike Fenech advanced to the championship round where he won the silver medal. In saber, both Marty Williams and Tom Gerrity made it to the final six where Marty repeated as NEIFC saber champion with a perfect 5-0 mark. Gerrity finished sixth in the strong field.
"This was the most dominating performance ever for our team," comments head coach Dr. Thomas Vrabel. "I just can't say enough about the focus that we had today. The team really fed off of the drive of their captain (Stuart Holmes). Stuart has been the only constant on the three consecutive Silvio Vitale Cup winning foil teams over the past three seasons. His will to win is just incredible. We have never dominated the way we did on Saturday. Winning two gold medals and a silver in the individual competitions was pretty special. I am very happy for our athletes."
The team continued its historic weekend when it traveled to NYU on Sunday for the National Collegiate Squad Championships. Weapon squads from over 20 schools, including eight of the top ten nationally ranked fencing programs competed in the event. The epee squad was seeded third in the 16-team field. A first round win over the Vassar Brewers set up a match with the # 5 seeded Penn Quakers. The Pioneers controlled the match from the start, surviving a determined comeback from Penn in the middle of the match. Justin Dion closed out the win with a 5-1 victory over Penn's All-American Cliff Fischler. The Pioneers were defeated in the semifinals by the eventual silver medal squad from Princeton. All three Pioneers (Dion, Fenech, and Jeremiah German) put in strong performances throughout the day in this event.
The foil squad came in to the competition seeded ninth and drew the # 8 Wayne State squad in the round of 16. The Pioneers took the lead early, fell behind in the middle round, and then on the strength of three strong performances by Andrew Holmes, Jon Jacovino, and Stuart Holmes, closed out a talented Wayne State squad 45-42. Team captain Stuart Holmes was dominant in this match, going 17-10. This set up a quarterfinal match between SHU and the #1 seeded Ivy League Champion Princeton Tigers. This match stayed close throughout and thanks to a strong 17-12 effort by Andrew Holmes, the Pioneers entered the final period trailing by only one, 40-39. This set up the crucial match between Stuart Holmes and Princeton All-American Alex Mills. Holmes quickly got the match tied and then the fencers traded touches until time ran out with the score tied at 44 all. In the overtime Holmes was able to push Mills to the end of the strip where a well-timed and executed counter attack by Holmes into Mills' preparation created the final and winning touch for Sacred Heart. The Pioneers finished out the day by falling in the semi finals to the Penn Quakers. In saber action the Pioneers finished ninth.
"This was an incredible day for us on such an important national stage," said Dr. Vrabel. "The east coast programs know how good we have become but I think that many of the teams from other regions still don't take us seriously. Our focus and determination was absolutely incredible. Andrew Holmes' wins over Mills (3-2) and Mandel (9-5) were unbelievable. Stuart Holmes defeated Alex Mills in the championship of an USFA Competition this past summer and I knew that he had a very good chance to close the gap and get the win for our team. They put so much in to that Princeton match. I don't think that many teams will be looking past our foil squad in the future. Our epee squad had a great season and deserved that #3 ranking going in to the event. I am very happy with the way that they controlled the match with Penn. They kept the Princeton match close but Princeton's 1-2 punch of first team All-American Yergler and Kelly is the best in college fencing this season. I am very proud of our bronze medal result."
The Pioneers are back in action on March 11th at Boston College for the regional round of the NCAA Championship.