Titles from new talent

Queen’s fencers gain both experience and wins on the squad

Queen’s men’s fencing team won three straight OUA titles from 2011 to 2013, while the women’s squad are the defending champions.
Queen’s men’s fencing team won three straight OUA titles from 2011 to 2013, while the women’s squad are the defending champions.

While it may not be the most popular sport on campus, Queen’s fencing is fighting hard to show that it’s one of the university’s most successful.

Tucked away to train in the Duncan MacArthur Hall gym on West Campus, the men’s and women’s varsity fencing club features a mix of newcomers and experienced fencers practicing hard for a shot at the OUA title.

“Everybody looks ready to put in the work this year,” said women’s team captain Nancy Chua. “We’re having a lot of fun.”

Chua and fellow captain Jimmy Wintle are two key members of the club. While the men’s and women’s teams compete separately, they practice and train together.

This season, the men’s team is looking to reclaim the provincial title after Carleton ended their three-year run atop the province in 2014, while the women’s team heads into the upcoming season as defending Ontario champions.

Unlike most Gaels varsity programs, the fencing team isn’t contingent on finding top fencers. The captains estimate about 80 per cent of the fencers come into the program without experience, though they say it’s not a big concern.

Both Wintle and Chua entered the Queen’s fencing program without any prior training. Chua said she became interested in the sport after a friend told her about a positive experience in fencing, while Wintle’s passion for trying new sports in his undergraduate days led to his curiosity in the Queen’s fencing program.

Fencing is unique among most intercollegiate sports, as the important dates of the season only last for a two-day period: the OUA championships. The championships consist of both individual events and team relays, with points from both counting towards crowning the overall men’s and women’s champions.

Before provincials, a typical year sees the Gaels take part in about five competitions with other universities. At these events, Queen’s looks to build their fencers’ skills and confidence.

“To be successful, we all have to help build each other up,” Wintle said.

While maintaining focus in what’s essentially a series of exhibition tournaments could be a challenge to some, Wintle said the close-knit nature of his teammates is key to concentrating on their goals year-round.

“Having a cohesive team that works really well together [is a strength],” he said. “We spend a lot of time together, on road trips we’re in hotels together, we do a lot of team bonding making those connections with people who are willing to put in the time to really explain to you the nuances of the sport and to help bring you up to a competitive level.”

In addition to the university-focused events, Queen’s fencers can also compete in unsanctioned competitions during the year outside of the team. Individuals and small groups from Queen’s often travel to these events to help advance their training.

The team practices four times during a typical week, though the number is smaller if they’re preparing for a weekend competition.

Wintle and Chua, as well as other experienced fencers, often lead and instruct drills, while the coaching staff typically works one-on-one with individual fencers.

While it’s still a long while before the OUA championships — the men’s is slated to start on Jan. 31, and the women’s on Feb. 7 — Wintle is confident that his team is heading in the right direction.

“The coaching staff’s done a great job setting goals week by week of where we should be,” he said. “They’re really setting the tone.”

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