Fencers close out regular season with 2 wins against top-10 opponentsStaring at the end of the regular season and a possible winless performance, senior saber Kodia Cigna-Baye and the rest of the women's team managed to pull out one of the biggest victories of the year to end the season on a high note.
In a reversal of roles, it was the women's team who came away with a victory against a ranked team in No. 10 St. John's at the Temple Duals—the team's first win against a top-10 team this season—while the men faced their fair share of challenges against the stiff competition but managed to finish 1-2 in what is Duke's toughest meet of the season.
"I'm really proud of how all of our girls did," Baye-Cigna said. "Even though we may not have won as many as we would have liked to—everyone wants to win them all—we still fenced really well."
The women's team began the regular season's final meet in disappointing fashion as they dropped the day's first three matches against the likes of No. 8 Temple, No. 1 Princeton and No. 6 Penn State. The team seemed to be on their way to a winless outing before they faced off against the Red Storm.
Prior to Saturday, the women had not registered a victory against a top-10 team all year, as opposing top-ranked squads had simply been able to overpower the Blue Devils in the close bouts throughout the match. Oftentimes, as was the case in the early matches Saturday, Duke would fall short by a small margin like it did in 15-12 losses to both the Owls and Nittany Lions. Until Saturday's final contest, the Blue Devils simply had not been able to break through for a victory. But their matchup against St. John's was a different story.
"Sometimes it's tough to stay in the right mindset for some things because it's such a mental sport—you always have to be on your mental toes, if you will," Baye-Cigna said. "Fencing Penn State, I wasn't there mentally. But for St. John's I refocused and re-prepared myself and had a little bit of fun."
As Duke entered the contest at 0-3, it easily could have sulked its way to 0-4 and accepted that it was going to be a long bus ride home. But the Blue Devils managed to dig deep and do something they hadn't done all season—upset a top-10 team.
After the epee and foil squads both lost their overall duals to the Red Storm 4-5 and 3-6, respectively, the then-winless saber squad was Duke's last hope. With the match on the line, the team turned to the saber squads' senior leader Cigna-Baye.
Knowing the squad was the team's last hope for a victory, Cigna-Baye put forth her best effort of the day, winning all three of her matches. Combined with the four wins registered by junior Libby Malcolm and freshman Angelica Hubbard, the sabers ran through St. John's for a 7-2 win to give the squad, and the team, the 14-13 overall victory against the Red Storm.
"I actually didn't know [that the team had yet to defeat a top-10 team]," Baye-Cigna said. "Most of the time, at least for me when I go in, I take it bout-by-bout. Whatever happens in the past is in the past. Sometimes we say, 'Leave it on the strip.' So whatever you do, you try your hardest and the rest you leave on the strip. But it was really good to win against St. John's."
Malcolm also managed to contribute to another major upset when she defeated Princeton's Diamond Wheeler—an All-American and National Championship-qualified fencer who boasts a 60-13 record for the season—in their bout earlier that day, which Baye-Cigna called "the highlight of my day."
The women's epee squad led the way with a 2-2 record, as the foil and saber squads both notched 1-3 clips at the conclusion of Saturday's action. Junior Sarah Collins and sophomore Isabella Barna both finished 8-4 on the day to lead the epee squad.
The men's team, which had been on a roll as of late after notching victories against No. 10 Stanford and No. 4 Notre Dame during the Northwestern Duals and then going 4-1 at the Duke Home Meet, failed to find consistent success against some of the nation's top teams.
But despite consecutive 16-11 losses to No. 8 St. John's and No. 2 Penn State, the No. 10 Blue Devils managed to notch their 20th win of the season with a victory against Princeton.
With the regular season at an end, the fencers will now look ahead to the NCAA Mid/South-Atlantic Regionals, scheduled for March 8.
"We had such a good showing and we fenced really well, although our numbers may not indicate it, which is hard to explain to people who don't 100% understand fencing," Baye-Cigna said. "We had a pretty strong showing and we'll be working hard the next two weeks to get ready for regionals."