The Junior Olympics took place this past weekend, but Duke elected not to send any of its fencers in order to rest for this weekend's meet. As it turns out, the Blue Devils chose a great week to rest, as classes were cancelled Wednesday through Friday due to Winter Storm Pax.
"The week off was a nice break after the Duke Meet because we had to set up and tear down the entire thing which took a ton of work," freshman saber Christopher Monti said. "We've been training really, really hard the whole semester so it's been very different for all of us. The snow week was pretty well deserved."
While some of the fencers were able to connect with one another and spend the snow days together, the freshman were separated from the rest of the team, as buses ceased to run beginning Wednesday and prevented convenient travel between East and West Campus.
"I live on East campus with the rest of the freshman. There's one girl [Angelica Hubbard] in my dorm who's on the fencing team, and she and I hung out a little bit," Monti said. "But it was all way too icy and way too dangerous to try and trek to West Campus."
With a week of rest and sledding behind them, the Blue Devils have now turned their attention upon what will be the most challenging lineup of teams they have had to face all season. No. 2 Penn State, No. 5 Princeton, No. 7 Pennsylvania and No. 8 St. John's are all on the schedule for Duke.
Though all matches will be considered equal in importance, Monti pointed to the matchup against the Quakers as the one the Blue Devils will be the most passionate about Saturday, as they have dropped both matches against Pennsylvania so far this season. The first loss came at the Penn State Duals in the form of a 18-9 defeat, and the other was a 22-5 rout at the Philly Invitational.
"I know saber has a vendetta against Penn so we're really looking to improve our performance against them," Monti said. "We've been practicing really hard and really trying to tweak our fencing in order to find out what we've been doing wrong in all those bouts. Definitely against UPenn we've had our troubles, and we're trying to prove as much as possible against them."
After Monti and fellow saber sophomore Charles Copti began the hot streak the team has been on, senior epee Alessio Santoro stepped up at the Duke Home Meet and led the team with a 13-1 clip. Duke has shown the ability throughout the season to have different leaders step up at each meet, which keeps the team from relying on one person to carry the squad. This in turn feeds back into Blue Devils' team-first mindset.
"As a team, we really work well together. We can tell when someone's lacking or when's someone's just not able to figure out another fencer," Monti said. "We're able to step down and let someone else take a stab at it, no pun intended."
The host Owls boast the eighth-ranked women's team in the nation and will be favored in each of their matchups come Saturday, although Duke may not feel quite as concerned about the bout as it had prior to the Duke Home Meet.
The Blue Devil women are well-acquainted with Temple, as the two teams faced off two weeks ago at the Duke Home Meet. The Owls came away with a 16-11 victory, marking the match as Duke's sole loss in a weekend that resulted with a 4-1 mark for the Blue Devils. Retrospectively, the defeat was not as negative as the team took it that day, as it provided Duke with the one thing it needed most heading into this weekend against the Owls—confidence.
Knowing they have the ability to go toe-to-toe with Temple, the Blue Devils' confidence will be very high for a team that has yet to register a win against a top-10 team. An upset on the last weekend of regular season play would go a long way in terms of momentum for the postseason.
Saturday's meet will signify the last regular season meet prior to NCAA Regionals, and will give many of the fencers an extra reason to perform well at Temple.
"Most people want to keep their standings for regionals as high as they can," Monti said. "I think that would sound like our consensus that we've all had as a team in general. Other than that, fence as hard as you can."