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At Rutgers Fencing Club, a Reminder of a Second Pathway to Fencing in College

03/28/2023, 10:00am CDT
By Bryan Wendell

Passion and friendship thrive at Rutgers Fencing Club, where members range from competitive fencers who compete and train regularly to students just checking out fencing for the first time.

Courtesy of Rutgers Fencing Club

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In the world of collegiate fencing, NCAA fencing grabs most of the headlines. With big-name programs, promises of scholarships and high-energy signature events like the NCAA Fencing Championships each March, this is attention that’s not without merit.

But those wanting to continue fencing in college should know that competing at a Division I, Division II or Division III NCAA program isn’t the only pathway to do so. Many colleges and universities offer fencing clubs, with most bringing together a mix of young fencers who want to continue pursuing competitive opportunities during their college years and newcomers wanting to fence recreationally or even try the sport for the first time. 

The Rutgers Fencing Club is one such program. The club has around 25 competitive members who train and compete regularly and dozens more casual members who show up occasionally to check out the sport. 

About 20 to 40 Rutgers students attend each practice — held twice a week for three hours, with an additional weekend practice for competitive members. There are typically four competitions each spring and two in the fall. 

Kaitlin Cheung, a senior foil fencer and the club’s vice president, says she loves the club's flexible and understanding approach to members' schedules.

“Since we are completely student-run, we are very understanding of others’ personal commitments and/or responsibilities outside of fencing,” she says. 

To help us learn more about the Rutgers club — and, indeed, about collegiate club fencing in general — we chatted with Cheung and some of her teammates.

What’s the vibe at Rutgers Fencing Club?

Club members and alumni are proud of the club’s welcoming and supportive atmosphere, where members can cultivate their passion for fencing while also forming lasting friendships. 

Junior saber fencer Mukund Murthy describes the club as "a place that is very accepting and peaceful for a lot of people who want a break from their academic lives." 

Murthy says the club offers a perfect balance between a relaxed environment and a more intense, competitive setting, allowing fencers to enjoy the sport regardless of their experience level.

Members of the Rutgers Fencing Club say it’s more than an after-class activity. It’s a family. Alumna Claudia Chan, a saber fencer from Hong Kong who joined the club as an international exchange student, remembers that she “was welcomed into the club with open arms and was given numerous opportunities to make close friends and take part in lots of fencing related activities." 

Her time with the club left such a positive impact that she decided to stay another semester at Rutgers, emphasizing that the club "gives everyone the chance to try, the space to fail, and most importantly the strength to stand back up again."

What misconceptions do you want to clear up about a fencing club (vs. an NCAA fencing program)?

Many people mistakenly believe that fencing clubs are less competitive or that their members are less dedicated compared to NCAA fencing programs. In reality, club members are just as passionate about fencing as those in NCAA programs and work hard to excel in competitions. Junior saber fencer Nicholas Angelillo says that members of the club "want to have fun fencing but also want to put up results and be the best we can be."

Senior epee fencer Maxine Shvachkin says she’s been fighting the misconception that club teams offer less since her freshman year.

“We have been looked down upon in competitions because we are a club team instead of an NCAA fencing program,” she says. “People assume that club programs do not compete, but we fence against multiple NCAA schools and have opportunities to fence some of the best college fencers in the country — like at the Temple Open.”

Rutgers Fencing Club won the Team Sportsmanship Award at the MACFA (Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association) Championships earlier this year — an honor voted on by other clubs and coaches. What do you think contributed to this honor?

The club's dedication to fostering a supportive environment and strong bond among teammates was instrumental in earning the sportsmanship award. 

As vice president Kaitlin Cheung explains, the team goes above and beyond to support each other — even when facing personal challenges. 

“For instance, when I sprained my ankle in October, I took a month off of fencing but still attended every practice and attended both days of the Temple Open, coordinating logistics for the team and serving as a photographer,” she says. “Even though I couldn’t fence, I felt that the least I could do was be there and support."

Cheung also notes that the recognition came as a surprise to the club. 

“The other clubs and NCAA coaches and teams present at the MACFA Championships and belonging to this league had seen our hard work and helped us earn this award, very much to our surprise,” she says. 

As you might expect, the sportsmanship award also recognizes how Rutgers fencers treat their opponents.

“At least for the saber squad,” says Junior Nicholas Angelillo, “we always find ourselves talking to the other teams in between bouts and joking around with them. I’ve always loved that about competition.”

Junior epee fencer Victor Lopez-Simpson agrees.

“We are always friendly to the other teams,” he says, “and are ready to help anyone who needs help or asks for something.”

Why do you love staying active in fencing?

Kaitlin Cheung: "Ever since I started fencing in my first year of high school, I fell in love with the sport and the community it provided me."

Maxine Shvachkin: "Fencing is such a physically and mentally challenging sport, but it provides such an endorphin rush that makes you never want to miss a practice."

Nicholas Angelillo: "It’s the one thing I can push my body to the limit without even feeling it because I'm so focused."

What advice do you have for high schoolers?

Mukund Murthy: "Don't get discouraged if you don't get into an NCAA program as there are so many opportunities at fencing clubs across the country which are just as fulfilling."

Maria Chung: "Keep the passion going— taking time off between high school and college fencing made me realize how much I missed the sport."

Claudia Chan: "Having a well-structured fencing program is beneficial for your development as a fencer, however there is more to just being a fencer during your college years."

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