Some athletes elect to travel by plane—Duke's fencers prefer a bus.
The Blue Devils will take a bus to Evanston, Ill., to compete in the Northwestern Dual tournament Saturday and Sunday at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. After an impressive stint at the Philadelphia Invitational last weekend, the squad is gearing up for an even longer ride to face a total of 12 opponents for the women’s team and 10 for the men.
“This upcoming meet is our biggest multi meet of our season and is the halfway mark in regular season play,” head coach Alex Beguinet said in an email. “We will continue to focus on what we have been doing in practices and on the performance corrections we've been working on from the previous two meets."
What remains between the team and the weekend’s event is a 12-plus-hour bus ride. Despite the wintry conditions, Duke fencing has always chosen this means of transportation whenever possible.
“We have some serious gear with us. Fencing equipment consists of electronic scoring machines and our foils, epees, and sabers all have electrical wires, tips and plugs… that connect to the scoring machines,” Beguinet said. “By loading our equipment onto the bus ourselves, we are able to control how it gets moved and to protect it from damage.”
Both the men's and women's teams will face highly-ranked opponents in Ohio State and Notre Dame. In addition, the women’s squad will square off against its host, No. 7 Northwestern, and the men’s team will begin day two of the weekend against No. 10 Stanford. With three chances for each team, the Blue Devils will hope to come away with their first victory against a ranked opponent this season.
Duke will not be the only team traveling a great distance to compete in the weekend duals. Caltech and UC San Diego will also make appearances — two squads the Blue Devils have not faced in team competition this season. Whether or not those teams will also elect to travel by bus is uncertain, but the decision was an easy one for Duke.
“Bus is our preferred method of travel. It takes us from right in front of Cameron right to the front door of our hotel," Beguinet said. “And on the bus, we have more room per person, have freedom to stop… and we can be as loud as we want to be. Movies, singing, games— it’s our space.”
Whether or not it’s due to time spent bonding on the bus, strong showings from Duke's freshmen fencers in Philadelphia indicate a smooth adjustment to collegiate competition. Standout freshmen include Julia Lee, who holds the most wins for the women’s team, and Christopher Monti, who placed 30th at the North American Cup on Jan. 19, the highest finish of any Duke fencer.
“There is always a bit of an adjustment for the freshmen on the team as the competition season starts,” Beguinet said. “Each of the freshmen is giving their all and doing their part towards team performance. I am proud of all of them.”
Other athletes may not be used to the travel time, but entertaining bus rides have become part of Duke's fencing culture.
“Fencers are very, very used to traveling.… By the time a fencer is at college on an NCAA team, they have probably been doing cross-country national events for up to five years,” Beguinet said. “And they have their team with them as support and travel buddies.”