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Fencing: No. 12 Northwestern narrowly falls to 4 ranked squads at Tufts and Philadelphia Invites

The ‘Cats have had a mixed bag of results.

Mary Grace Grabill / Northwestern Athletics

With January NACs all wrapped up for Northwestern, the No. 12 ‘Cats are back to going head-to-head with teams. They headed out east to Medford, Massachusetts for the Tufts Invitational on Jan. 14 before going to Philadelphia the following Sunday. In all, NU participated in eight matches, winning three of them.

At Tufts, Northwestern had three tilts: bouts with Wellesley, Tufts and now-No. 11 Cornell. It started off the day in tough fashion, as the Big Red soundly took NU down by a 21-6 margin. While Cornell won the majority of the nine bouts in each of the three disciplines — foil, epee and sabre — the latter proved to be Northwestern’s biggest problem. Cornell prevailed 8-1 in that area, which set the tone for a disappointing result against another elite squad.

Things got better when Northwestern faced Wellesley, but it narrowly fell to the Blue in a 14-13 nailbiter. Although NU turned it around in the sabre to win seven of nine (six of which came from Levi Hoogendorn and Alex Chen), it couldn’t manage to prevail in epee, where it fell by the same 7-2 score. Consequently, foil proved to be decisive, and the ‘Cats only won four of the nine bouts.

All hope wasn’t lost, though, as Northwestern ended the day on a positive note with a 21-6 victory over Tufts. An eye-popping four Wildcats went undefeated: Yejine Lee in foil, Sumin Liu in sabre, as well as Christina Liu and Kaylin Nguyen in epee.

That result set the tone for the next weekend’s action at the Philadelphia Invitational; Northwestern excelled against worse competition while falling to elite teams. However, those defeats were much closer. NU started off with No. 5 Duke, which it had lost to 15-12 at Columbus-based Elite Invitational in mid-November. Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, they fell by the same score in Philly. While Northwestern won six of nine foil bouts, its 2-7 mark in sabre made the difference.

Up next, the Wildcats had another rematch on tap: a dance with No. 16 Penn, which beat NU 14-13 in Columbus. Once again, head coach Zach Moss’ team fell by the same score. Making the loss even more painful, none of the three categories were decided by more than one point. As it did against the Blue Devils, Northwestern only held an advantage in foil.

From there, NU’s slate briefly got way easier. It routed Drew and NJIT, defeating the teams by a combined mark of 47-6. Both the foil and sabre teams went 9-0 against Drew, and only dropped one bout apiece versus the Highlanders. The epeeists also enjoyed immense success, going 8-1 to earn a 26-1 team victory over Drew.

The bounce-back was nice, but a final test awaited Northwestern: No. 6 Yale. Again, the Wildcats couldn’t pull out a close match, losing 15-12. Like Duke and Penn, the Bulldogs’ epeeists made their mark, as they won six of their nine contests. The sabrists punctuated a nice close to the invite with a 5-4 win, but Northwestern’s foilists suffered their only defeat of the day.

Like they did at the Elite Invitational in November, the Wildcats couldn’t consistently beat elite competition despite easily handling lesser opponents. On the bright side, there were several encouraging individual performances. Foilists Juliana Hung and Allison Lee, Hoogendorn and epeeist Hanna Lipthay led the way with 7-2 records in Philadelphia. Of the five foilists who competed — Lee, Hung, Rowan Park, Samantha Serban and Karina Vasile (who previously fenced for the Romanian National Team) — none finished with a record worse than 6-3. Sky Miller also posted a 5-1 record for the sabre team.

Sitting at 10-11, the Wildcats will look to get back on track at No. 2 Notre Dame’s DeCicco Duals in South Bend this Saturday.