The sophomore slump is a well-cataloged phenomenon, in which a player who had a breakout rookie year often succumbs to the grips of pressure and attention. Odds are that your favorite NFL team’s quarterback might’ve gone through the storied depression, or maybe it was a hitting drought that downed one of your favorite MLB players.
In simple terms, it’s tough to taste success and not swallow it whole. To let success sprout is no easy feat, and it’s something that extends beyond the second season of a star athlete’s career. It’s equally visible in teams as a whole — how surprise up-starts manage to handle the unfamiliar pressures of rankings and commentary following an impressive, on-the-low season.
Enter: Northwestern women’s fencing. Now, to call the program, which has boasted winning records in recent history, an up-start is a disservice. Head coach Zach Moss has had his team’s mostly up to par since his hiring in 2016, but what he and the swords pulled off last year will now certainly come with expectations.
After finishing the 2021-2022 campaign ranked No. 33 in the UFCA Coaches’ Poll, the ‘Cats went on a tear last season — largely catalyzed by impressive freshmen performances — and ended the regular season at No. 4.
Megumi Oishi was about as prototypical a first-year phenom as you could imagine. The Portland native earned an All-American honorable mention at the NCAA tournament. Oishi’s freshman counterpart, épée Karen Wang, also notched an honorable mention.
Following wildly impressive freshman campaigns, Oishi and Wang will genuinely have the ominous sophomore slump floating above their heads. And as a program, NU will have to manage hefty expectations after a season that ultimately concluded in a No. 12 finish at the national competition.
To kick the year off, the ‘Cats hosted the Remenyik ROC and RJCC event at Ryan Fieldhouse. The annual meet brings together a swath of fencers from various club teams and colleges. Despite the mass of entries, Northwestern managed to dominate start to finish.
The two-day tournament began with a NU sweep in the junior women’s sabre event. Oishi claimed gold and two first-years, Adele Bois and Amy Lu, snatched second and third, respectively. The event served as a promising sign that another incoming class of ‘Cats are in for a great debut season.
In the Division I foil event, once again, Northwestern took the top spots — this time first and second. Yejine Lee and Rowan Park cleaned up, both adding on to their solid finishes from last season.
And, of course, what would Northwestern fencing be if not the Karen Wang show? The second-year took home first in the junior division of the épée category. If Moss and Co. hope to prolong last year’s successes, Wang’s dominance in the event will be a must all season.
Day Two was much of the same, as ‘Cats claimed all types of hardware throughout the day. Notably, Alex Chen, a freshman, earned first in the Division I category for sabres — ahead of Oishi, who finished in third.
Just a few days after getting their feet wet, the ‘Cats headed to Happy Valley this weekend to participate in the Garret Open, which included squads from Penn State, Ohio State, Temple, UNC Chapel Hill and Wagner.
In the team’s first real test against Division I competition, none of the purple fencers snagged a first-place finish. All the team’s best finishes came in the various senior divisions.
Sky Miller, a veteran staple for Moss’s squad, posted the best outing. She nabbed second in the sabre event. Meanwhile, Athina Kwon squeaked out a third-place finish among the épées, and Rowan Park had the same outcome in the foil category.
In all, the visit to Penn State was nothing to write home about, but it served as a fine tune up for a team coming off a season of high emotions that’s now battling high expectations. Great performances from the freshmen are reasons for optimism, and the ever-steady presence of seniors like Miller should remain a guiding force for a Wildcat team with plenty of potential.
Up next is the October North American Cup (NAC) — a recurring event throughout the season, where NU’s top fencers can duel individually against the nation’s top swords. That’ll take place from Oct. 27 to Oct. 30.