When Duke hits the road for the Philadelphia Invitational this weekend, it will make its second road trip to Pennsylvania in the span of two weeks. Most people would not be enthralled with the idea of so many trips up north, but Blue Devil fencers have always embraced the opportunity.
Senior Kodia Baye-Cigna, who boasts the fourth most wins on the team with 11, will look to replicate the success she had at the same tournament back in 2012, when she went a perfect 15-0 in her bouts.
“I remember it just being a really supportive environment,” Baye-Cigna said. “The parents, they always show up. Also for that specific event, there were a few seniors and graduated members who were just so consistently supportive and wonderful and helpful, it was no stress for me.”
But Baye-Cinga understands that as one of the five seniors on the women’s team, her role during the upcoming tournament will be a little bit different than it was as a sophomore two years ago.
“I'm expected to take on a few more responsibilities in helping people who are new to the traveling season,” she said. “I think as long as I go in not expecting to have bouts handed to me [I'll be alright].”
A large part of the Blue Devils’ weekend—approximately 16 hours—will be spent on the road in the team bus. Baye-Cinga said that riding the bus is far from her favorite part of the weekend, but cited a change in departure time as a major improvement that will ease the trip.
“We used to have a really, really early leave time. It would be like 3 a.m. in the morning. Luckily, we changed it this year to 8 a.m for the last one. Then I think we're leaving at like 1 [p.m.] this weekend and then 5 a.m. the weekend after that,” she said. “But anything's an upgrade from 3 a.m.”
Comfort is an integral part of any road trip, especially one leading up to one of the nation's biggest tournaments. Duke's fencers understand this better than anyone. Throughout the years, the Blue Devils have perfected their creative attempts to make the bus a bit more homely and sleep through the trip.
“They'll bring yoga mats or sleeping bags,” Cigna-Baye said. “It's not [a bad idea], unless it's 3 a.m. and people are trying to go to the bathroom and there's the getting-your-face-stepped-on aspect of it. One time, we had someone bring a hammock and she strung it up between the headrests and she slept like a baby.”
As a senior, Cigna-Baye realizes she only has a limited numbers of road trips and tournaments left with her team. And while the tournaments themselves are fun, it is the little things she will miss the most. Namely, morning Cracker Barrel stops.
“I'm not going to miss the bus ride, but I probably will miss Cracker Barrel,” she said. “Back when we had the early leave time, we'd always eat breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Around 9 or 10 [a.m.], we'd be somewhere in the middle of nowhere, nobody ever knew which state we were in until we asked. I would always be kind of grouchy and half-asleep, but it was always nice to have that consistency, that time to do a little team bonding off the bus.”
Following their legendary Cracker Barrel stop, the Blue Devils will turn their focus from southern food to the likes of Sacred Heart, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, John Hopkins, North Carolina, Lafayette, Haverford and Drew. Duke has excelled this season in the women’s epee (5-0) and men’s sabre (4-0), but will need strong performances from the rest of its teams if it hopes to top the competition come Saturday and Sunday.