Unlike other Blue Devil teams—minus wrestling—the fencing team has to set up the entire array of necessary fencing equipment and seating in the days leading up to the Duke Home Meet. Though it may not be as grueling as last week's combined 35 hours spent on the team bus going to and from Evanston, Ill., getting everything set up and transforming Card Gymnasium into a state-of-the-art fencing hall is no easy task.
"It's always wonderful to see the gym just totally transformed from dumpy looking Card to the masterpiece that Alex creates," senior sabre Kodia Baye-Cigna said. "Essentially everything in here is the product of almost 30 years of hard work on the behalf of Alex and [Beguinet's wife and recruiting coordinator Elizabeth Beguinet]."
Sophomore sabre Charles Copti cited head coach Alex Beguinet's dedication to the tournament as the main reason it is as highly respected as it is. Many of the pieces of equipment and decorative displays actually belong to Beguinet and have just accrued in his storage as he gathered them throughout his 28-year career with Duke.
In the week leading up to the meet, Beguinet works nonstop to make sure each and every piece that will be used during the tournament is neatly displayed and correctly positioned. Copti said the meet was Beguinet's "baby", and as one of the difficulties that comes with having an infant, Beguinet does not get much sleep as he tends to perfecting every inch of Card Gymnasium.
"[Beguinet] has been here since 6 a.m," Copti said. "He slept here last night. He sleeps here every night until next Monday to make sure everything is perfect."
But the coach is not the only one putting in the man hours when it comes to setup. The athletes also are integral to the process of transforming Card Gymnasium, as they spend any free time they have during the week helping Beguinet and the coaching staff prepare the gym for the weekend.
"We all have to commit at least an hour-and-a-half but basically it's a situation of if you're not in class, not studying for a test—you're here," Copti said. "People end up doing a lot more than an hour-and-a-half because that's how things end up working out."
Although the Duke fencers are forced to give up some of their time to assist with the setup, they get to reap the benefits of hosting one of the nation's top fencing competitions.
The buzz surrounding the Duke Home Meet is a result of everything from the promptness of the start time on meet days to the referees' accommodations to the complete transformation of Card Gymnasium undertakes—as the fencers, coaches and even athletic department personnel all lend a hand to set up bleachers, work on wiring and put up scoreboards.
"A lot of schools don't do this," Copti said. "They have great facilities of course, but they don't put as much time and effort into making it look as amazing."
Once the setup is done, Duke will be able to focus on the meet, which is coming at the perfect time for the Blue Devils. Both of Duke's teams seem to have hit a midseason stride following last week's 8-1 and 8-4 performances by the men's and women's teams, respectively, at the Northwestern Duals.
This weekend will feature another opportunity to post a stellar record for both groups as the men's team will take on the likes of Air Force, Brandeis, MIT, John Hopkins and North Carolina Saturday while the women will face off against the same teams sans Johns Hopkins and adding in No. 9 Temple Sunday. Both days' events will run from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Although the matchup against the Owls is a highly awaited challenge for the Duke women's team—which has yet to defeat a ranked team this season—it is North Carolina that will have the squad the most excited, especially in front of a home crowd. The opportunity to play in front of friends is not one the fencers are allowed often, as the majority of their meets are several states away.
"People always perform a little bit stronger here," Baye-Cigna said. "Everyone gets really pumped about being at home and having something to share with their friends. Because it's really hard when you always fence in Pennsylvania, you can't really invite your friends to it."
For Baye-Cigna and the rest of the seniors, it will be their last chance to duel in front of a home crowd. And while Baye-Cigna doesn't see herself getting emotional, she knows it will be tough once cleanup is finished Monday.
"For the seniors last year, it was a little emotional. I'm not much of a crier so I doubt I'll be crying but you never know. You never know," she said.