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MSU fencing club hosts first open tournament in over decade, wins nine medals

October 10, 2023
Two fencers face off at the Red Cedar Rumble fencing tournament in IM West on Oct. 8, 2023.
Two fencers face off at the Red Cedar Rumble fencing tournament in IM West on Oct. 8, 2023. —
Photo by Sloane Barlow | The State News

The MSU Fencing Club held the Red Cedar Rumble this Sunday, making this their first tournament open to any registered fencer in over a decade. Fencers hailed from across Michigan to compete at IM West

The tournament began with épée, a fencing style where competitors aim for anywhere on their opponent. This was followed by sabre fencing, where competitors use slashing movements instead of thrusting the blade and then foil fencing.

All three fencing styles were co-ed, but winners were split into two categories: women and overall, with the former being exclusive to women fencers and the latter being open to any gender.

After eight-and-a-half hours of play, seven winners were awarded medals in the top three places. 

Club member and biochemistry junior Clayton Wicka tied third place overall for foil. As one of the MSU Fencing Club’s co-captains and the men’s foil captain, he competed in both épée and foil bouts while also supporting his fencers by playing in practice sessions. 

“Practice is about getting your fencers into shape physically and into shape mentally,” Wicka said. “The tournament is much more time-limited (compared to drills in practice). You only have a few seconds to figure out what your opponent is doing. It gets chaotic.”

Co-captain Jessica Salinas, who is also the captain for the women’s foil team, won first place in women’s foil and second in women’s sabre

“I think it went very well,” Salinas said.

Wicka also believed the tournament was successful, not just for those who won medals, but for all fencers.

“(Participants) can get satisfaction at completing something official,” Wicka said.

Because fencing is not an official MSU sport, members pay dues of $60 per semester, which usually helps cover expenses when traveling to tournaments. When the MSU Fencing Club competed at Ohio State University last weekend, they drove and stayed overnight in a hotel. 

“We haven’t hosted an open tournament in a long time, (and) this is going to be our biggest event in a bit,” education fifth-year Jacob Pullman, who captains the men's sabre team, said. "We really pushed for our players to do (the Red Cedar Rumble), as they can just roll out of bed and be here." 

Club members competed against a wide range of people, including non-students. One of those people, Dale Karolak, said he had never competed against the club’s current members, but that he had fenced in MSU’s last open tournament over a decade ago. 

With 43 years of fencing experience, he still practices épée and foil three days a week, competing nationally and internationally when he can. But, with his fencing roots from his time at Central Michigan University, he continues to compete in local tournaments. 

“I love competing against college kids,” Karolak said. “They’re super quick, and they’re focused. You learn so much from how they fence.”

One college student he fenced against, human biology freshman and club member Auynha Smith, had the same outlook on competing against a non-student. Although Karolak won 5-1 in their épée bout, Smith felt “fine” with the loss. 

“I didn’t know his style, but it was a good learning experience,” Smith said.

Smith won first place in the women's MSUFC/DCFC.

Noah Weller, a high school student who competed as a part of Troy’s Renaissance Fencing Club, fenced in more than ten sabre bouts during the event. Though he said he would fence again at future MSU open tournaments, Weller felt the tournament was hampered due to a lack of referees.

Many registered fencing referees in Michigan were unavailable for this weekend, Fencing Club President Ceili Widmann said. This left the Red Cedar Rumble with only 11 referees for 70 total registrations, and some competitors complained about the tournament’s speed, Widmann said

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Widmann themself took on the referee role for multiple épée bouts. Being an épée fencer themself, Widmann is only registered to referee this one style. Widmann said they wished Red Cedar Rumble had more referees registered in multiple fencing styles, as this tournament had more participants than most they have attended

“I don’t know if we could’ve done it faster,” Widmann said. “At one point in the middle of the tournament, we had to wait for open strips. It wasn’t that there weren’t enough referees — there weren’t enough strips.”

The MSU Fencing Club taped down nine strips in the gym at IM West for fencers to compete. Dozens of friends and family members watched these fencing bouts from the sides, including a service dog named Biscuit, who stood by while her owner refereed multiple sabre bouts. 

Pullman said one of the most valuable aspects of competing in tournaments like the Red Cedar Rumble is that they "give people the opportunity to learn what they did well or what to work on in practice."

"When you fence the same people all the time, you learn everyone’s strategy," Pullman said. "In open tournaments, you’re competing against people you’ve never practiced with before."

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