Lily Jiang’s second OUA medal was a little bittersweet.
The second-year Gaels fencer captured bronze in the individual sabre at last weekend’s OUA championships in Toronto, a year after winning gold as a rookie in the same event. She also spearheaded Queen’s to their second consecutive provincial team championship.
While bringing home the banner required a team effort, fencing remains a solitary sport — and at events like the OUA championships, the individual competitions can even see fencers from the same school go up against each other.
Jiang found herself in that situation this year; she defeated Gaels captain Julia Meerakker to win the sabre bronze. It was the last match of Meerakker’s OUA career.
Because fencing is inherently individual, Jiang said, there’s an increased desire to win for the team as a whole.
“There’s just so much more emotional support, because you’re no longer competing on your own, but you’re just carrying your whole team forward and everyone’s helping each other out,” she said.
“You’re cheering them on and there’s just a lot more at stake, I’d say, because you just feel the responsibility to do well in order for your team to do well.”
Winning has come often to Queen’s since Jiang arrived in 2013-14. Before last year’s championship, the Gaels hadn’t captured an overall OUA title since a run of four straight from 2001-04.
Jiang said she was confident heading into this year’s event that the Gaels would be able to repeat.
While she has seen success at the OUA level, Jiang got her start in fencing under the tutelage of an even more acclaimed athlete.
When Jiang was 12, her parents suggested the self-described “introvert” take up fencing, in part due to their admiration for Jujie Luan, who won the 1984 Olympic gold medal in women’s foil for China.
Luan had since moved to Edmonton — Jiang’s hometown — and started coaching in the city.
“She was really, really friendly and encouraging, and even though I didn’t have that athletic gene in me, she really helped me get my start in fencing and I just kind of grew to love it from there,” Jiang said.
Jiang was coached by Luan for two years, switching to a new coach after changing weapons from foil to sabre. She made the leap to competing at the national level when she was in high school; since then, she has competed at a number of Canadian and international tournaments, including events held in Moscow and Puerto Rico.
In her final tournament before starting at Queen’s, Jiang won an overall silver medal in sabre with Team Alberta at the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke. She finished sixth in the individual event.
Because of her prior experience, Jiang came to Queen’s with a greater skill level than many of her teammates, who tend to have picked up the sport recently. She said coming to Queen’s forced her to adapt to different types of fencers.
“It’s not just me fencing and training on a one-on-one basis with a coach anymore,” she said, “It’s me interacting with a whole bunch of students from a variety of skill levels and us helping each other develop.”
While women’s fencing has seen a great deal of success during Jiang’s time at Queen’s, they’ve done so without garnering much attention from the student body.
As a varsity club, fencing doesn’t get the same recognition as varsity teams and has to operate under a smaller budget. While financial constraints require the team to run fundraisers to help subsidize competitions and buy equipment, Jiang said, there’s a benefit to club status.
“I know for one thing that we’re put under a pretty tight budget,” she said. “At the same time as a club, it alleviates the pressures of a team, because we’re a lot more relaxed and there’s not that much of a pressure to do well. It’s more about having fun and meeting new people and helping each other grow.”
Though fencing isn’t as well known on campus as other sports, Jiang said the camaraderie she has with her teammates makes up for it.
“It really helps that everyone is really open and friendly with each other so I can actually go to practice expecting to get part of this social compartment of my life where I interact with people,” she said. “I help them develop and I know that they’re going to help me back.”
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