This past weekend, with crowds watching in the ARC, Queen’s locked swords with the province’s best at the OUA Women’s Fencing Championships.
Often an underappreciated sport in North America, the Gaels, along with other talented squads of fencers from across Ontario, demonstrated that highly-skilled and competitive bouts aren’t hard to find in Canadian schools.
The Western Mustangs ended up with the overall gold banner, combining scores from individual rounds on Saturday and the team events the following day. Queen’s picked up the bronze medal, backed by a range of strong individual performances on Day One. Local rival RMC joined the teams on the podium, claiming second place.
The Gaels were led by fourth-year Lily Jiang, who won the individual sabre division. Fencers are divided into three divisions based on their weapon — sabre, foil and épée. In 2015, Jiang captured an individual bronze, with the team winning gold in the sabre division. Last year, Jiang placed second in sabre, with the team also winning a silver medal in the division. Speaking about the achievement, Jiang said, “recapturing the gold medal for the individual event was a testament to all the years of hard work I have dedicated to my sport.”
Describing her gold medal bout against familiar opponent Rebecca Jeffrey of U of T, Jiang said she changed her strategy after a break during the round, which ultimately helped her overcome the strong opposition. “I decided to take more risks by trying different tactics, which made me less predictable … I managed to get a lead, and it was a mental game from there.”
Jiang also spoke of how she may regret some of her moves in her matches on Day Two of the tournament in the team event. Three fencers per team in each discipline play to 45 points, longer than an individual bout that’s first to 15. But on the whole, she was incredibly proud of the entire team’s performance. “My teammates fought for every bout,” she said. “They’ve exemplified the true qualities of sportsmanship and I wouldn’t trade those in for a different tint of medal.”
The hometown buzz around the tournament was also a positive factor throughout the weekend. The fencing season is based on a tournament schedule, where every team competes at the same school on a given weekend. Competing at home is more rare, and as Jiang noted, lends extra motivation when competing.
“Being on home turf contributed to the energy and excitement of the atmosphere,” she said. “After everything Queen’s has done for us as athletes, we really wanted to do our school proud and perform our best.”
Lia Piekarski, who was Queen’s highest finisher in eighth place of the épée division, also commented on the home-field advantage. She appreciated the “extra support, having so many more people there than when travelling.”
The team will be faced with a tall task next season trying to return to the podium or even reclaim the overall banner without Jiang at the head of the sabre team. However, Piekarski noted that the captain of the épée team, Sharleen Fisher, will be back and strong high school fencers are expected to join the program next year. She also added how many members of the team only began fencing in university, and will continue to improve with the help of their strong group of coaches, gratitude which Jiang echoed.
In the foil division, Jessie Pollett won silver for the Gaels in the individual event, while also leading that discipline to a fifth place finish in the team event. Queen’s, led by Jiang, took bronze in the team sabre, while Fisher’s épée squad finished fourth.
The men’s team is hoping to follow up on the women’s success this weekend in St. Catharines at their OUA Championships at Brock.
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