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‘we exceeded the expectation’: duke fencing impresses at elite invitational despite injuries on the men’s side

the blue devil women finished 5-1 among a stacked, highly ranked field.
the blue devil women finished 5-1 among a stacked, highly ranked field.

no. 9 duke competed in its second tournament of the season sunday at the elite invitational in columbus, ohio. the tournament featured several formidable opponents for the blue devils, with notre dame, princeton and ohio state all ranked within the top five on both the men and women’s side. this fact didn’t stop the duke women from pulling off several upsets this weekend to close out 5-1. while the men were not able to come away with a winning record, their strength and determination were still on full display.

“we knew that it would be challenging,” said head coach omar elgeziry. “the expectation was we should fight hard, and i would say we exceeded the expectation and we came through. overall, i'm happy with the performance and excited to see the team performing well.”

the women’s team can be particularly proud of its dominant 17-10 victory against no. 2 notre dame. this win was the result of excellence across all three fencing disciplines: foil, epee and saber. women’s foil saw yet another outstanding performance from senior co-captain christina ferrari, who ended the tournament 10-4. crowned the champion of the women’s foil event at the temple open earlier this month, ferrari again displayed both consistency and technical brilliance in high-pressure moments. in women’s epee, junior rachel kowalsky was integral to the team’s efforts to upset the fighting irish, including victories against daena talavera (5-2) and anne myler (5-1).

the weekend also saw a string of standout freshmen performances, which has quickly become a trend for this up-and-coming blue devil team. freshman sophia shen went 10-1 sunday, finishing the tournament with one of the highest winning percentages on the team. natalie olsen also followed up her second-place performance at the temple open with a strong 6-3 score in saber. the combination of experience from upperclassmen and electric energy from underclassmen has brought the women’s team to a whole new level this season. being only one winning leg away from tying no. 1 princeton this weekend, the team is proving that it can beat the best of the best.

“we only lost one match, which shows me that the team is ready to work together and bring the wins together,” elgeziry said. “that’s a huge improvement just for what we've been building.”

on the men’s side, senior stephen kim led the score count with 10 victories to five losses. his performance, coupled with that of sophomore justin morrill (6-9) and freshman samir travers (7-8), took the men’s saber team to a 2-3 finish this weekend. it was a similar result for men’s foil and epee, which was just not enough to push the team over the edge. team-style tournaments like the elite invitational require strong performances in each discipline, so if the team can manage to build back its depth within the coming months, pulling off upsets is not entirely out of the question.

“on the men’s side, there are two pieces that we need to work on. we need to be very mindful of the squad and how we’re going to allocate the fencers,” elgeziry said. “we don't have a very deep squad and we have few injuries on the team. as a future problem, we need to focus on the recruiting game plan especially on the men’s side just because we need to deepen that squad more.”

the blue devils will kick off their 2024 season jan. 20 at the philadelphia invitational. the women’s team will look to sustain their success so far, while the men will try to bounce back from the injury bug.

“i'm not going to say that there has been any disappointment at this point,” elgeziry said. “what we need to do now is just get everyone to be consistent in the next few months.”

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