In the basement of IM Sports-West, with the clock nearing 8 p.m., chemical engineering junior Adam Wingate sets his shoulders and strides onto the basketball courts.
“Hey guys, fencing club has the gym in five minutes,” he yells at the students playing basketball. “Five minutes.”
They roll their eyes at him, but when he yells at them again five minutes later, the players reluctantly clear off.
Wingate is the president of the MSU fencing club, and making basketball players leave the gym is just part of his job, but once that’s done, the swords come out and the real work begins.
“There’s not a lot (that’s) elaborate about it,” Wingate said. “We show up, we practice, we go to tournaments.”
Fencing club consists of about 60 people, according to the club’s website, and organized into six squads based on gender and weapon. Fencers use one of three available weapons: foil, sabre and épée.
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Foil tends to be the favored weapon of beginners, but the choice of weapon ultimately comes down to individual preference, according to chemical engineering sophomore Becca Jacobs, who favors the épée.
“It’s more of a personal decision,” Jacobs said. “They’re very stylistically different, but anybody can get by fencing with any weapon they want.”
Jacobs said much of the difference in style between the three weapons comes from different sets of rules. For instance, foil and sabre reward points to the fencer determined to be attacking, which means a fencer cannot score while defending. Épée, on the other hand, makes no distinction in scoring between attacker and defender, allowing either player to score a point with a touch at any time. As such, épée tends to attract taller players who can use superior reach to their advantage.
Fencing club encourages anyone to join, regardless of their experience level. Both Jacobs and Wingate came in without any prior fencing experience, and Wingate said while the club typically gets 30 to 40 new members each year, maybe one of those new members has actually fenced before. He only joined because he went to Sparticipation, signed up for “about 20” activities and found that fencing was where he wanted to be.
“I got to fencing and it was a good match,” he said. “And I’ve gotten to love it more every year.”
Apparel and textile design sophomore Sierra Koepele is one of the few with previous fencing experience. She started when she was 12, but said she has been impressed with her fellow fencers at MSU.
“It’s impressive how quickly, how fast they teach these kids,” Koepele said.
Marketing freshman Justin Brickman, who also has been fencing for years, said he was encouraged to fence at MSU by other fencers he knew because of the quality of its program.
“(My friends) were all like ‘MSU is a really good club, you should join,’” Brickman said.
MSU fencing is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Club Fencing Championships, which Wingate said was basically the national championship of club fencing, and thus their biggest tournament of the year. About 40 to 50 teams participate each year, according to Wingate, with last year’s tournament featuring 39 teams.
While MSU finished fifth overall, the MSU women finished third as a team and the men finished No. 13. Then-senior Harriet McTigue finished second individually in women’s sabre as well. Wingate said that type of performance from the team wasn’t out of the ordinary, as the team typically does well at that tournament.
This year, however, they also have to worry about hosting it.
“We’re hosting nationals this year, which is kind of fun,” Wingate said.
That makes the next few months a little more difficult, Wingate said, because it means the club has to balance preparing to compete with preparing to host approximately 900 fencers. The tournament isn’t until April 6, however, so they have some time. But Wingate thinks the team will be fine.
“If the only thing we do this semester is put on a professional-level tournament, that would be phenomenal,” he said. “But if all of our squads could finish in the top 15, and we finished top five as a team, that would be mind-bogglingly awesome — and I don’t think that’s out of reach.”
Wingate cited Brickman as one of the reasons to believe in the team, calling him “possibly a top-four (club) fencer in the nation.” Brickman shrugged off the individual praise, preferring to praise his men’s foil squad.
“We’ve been (doing) really well and fencing our best (lately), and we know we’re kind of coming from the ground up and proving ourselves,” Brickman said. “We just want to dominate.”