Two weeks ago, sophomore saber Jennifer Ling did something nobody in a Duke uniform had done in 43 years—bring an ACC championship crown back to Durham.
But the underclassman from Cranbury, N.J., will have to put the conference glory aside this weekend to focus on reaching another goal in her Blue Devil career—clinching a spot in the national championships for the second straight season.
Ling and 22 other Blue Devils will travel 460 miles to Bethlehem, Pa., to participate in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional tournament Saturday. The regional tournament was going to be held at Lafayette College but was moved to Moravian College due to a norovirus outbreak in Easton, Pa. Duke will compete against fencers from highly-ranked schools including Notre Dame, Pennsylvania, Princeton and North Carolina.
“[This weekend,] focusing on each point will be the key aspect of each bout and also maintaining a good mental state. I know that when I’m in a very negative mind state and I listen to myself that I’m not doing my best, it definitely gets to me and it becomes a reality," Ling said. "But if I keep motivating myself and be resilient even though I lost one bout, that pushes forward me to the end. That’s what I did in the ACC [tournament] and it helped me.”
Ling went 12-3 in pool play at the ACC championships Feb. 28 and then defeated the Fighting Irish duo of Francesca Russo—the 2015 saber national champion—and Tara Hassett to capture the first Blue Devil gold medal in ACC action since 1973.
The conference champion is tied with her weapon mates Haley Fisher and Pascual di Tella for the team-lead in wins this season with 57 apiece, and will compete against 35 fencers in the saber category this weekend, including Fisher.
“We all try our best to conquer our own goals so this transition for me is more about focusing on what I can do and trying to the best of my ability to achieve what I want and also support my teammates whenever I can,” Ling said.
Saturday’s tournament will be special for seniors Charles Copti, Isabella Barna and Samantha Lee, because it will be their last opportunity to secure a berth to an NCAA tournament. Copti has posted 49 victories this spring as a saber, Barna owns a 39-16 individual ledger in the epee division and Lee will look to improve her 29-31 record using her foil.
“For me, I honestly just get into the strip and I whisper to myself ‘Showtime,’” Lee said. “You've just got to take that anxiety out of your hence and get into the strip and fence.”
Duke head coach Alex Beguinet said that his seniors might put some extra pressure on themselves, knowing that this tournament could put an end to their Blue Devil careers, but added that the veterans would come out ready to go.
“Winning, winning and winning [will be key],” Beguinet said. “They are going to perform well. If they do what they are supposed to do and maintain a certain level, they should be fine. We are ready.”
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