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Six newcomers lead Duke fencing contingent to season-opening North American Cup

<p>Eight Blue Devils will open their season this weekend in Detroit.</p>

Eight Blue Devils will open their season this weekend in Detroit.

Following a month of practice, a string of new Blue Devil standouts are set to make their Duke debuts this week at the October North American Cup—if they are able to fly to Detroit, Mich., on time.

With weather expected to impact flights in the Raleigh-Durham area starting Friday, eight Blue Devils are planning to open the season Friday through Monday. Junior Pascual Di Tella and sophomore Will Feldman will be joined by six freshmen—Kendyl Bree, Duncan De Caire, Eoin Gronningsater, Aidan McGinnis, Lindsay Sapienza and Ben Stone. 

A co-captain for the men's team this year, Di Tella is coming off an NCAA championship appearance and will compete in the saber competition as he leads several of his teammates into the first of four North American Cups in the coming months. 

"This first NAC of the year is a great way for these eight fencers to test themselves against the other collegiate fencers who are also there sharpening up, themselves looking to repeat or earn a trip to this season's NCAA championships," head coach Alex Beguinet said.

Although Di Tella is the only Blue Devil competing with NCAA championship experience, freshman Eoin Gronningsater will also look to make his mark when he opens competition with Feldman in the foil event Saturday morning. 

Gronningsater recently competed at the Junior World Cup, finishing in the top 16 out of 175 of the top fencers 20 years old or younger in the world.

"I don't think it is showing favoritism to say that [Gronnigsater] is showing himself to be one of the strongest fencers on the team currently," Beguinet said. "After his great finish at the recent World Cup, Eoin has confidence and is looking great in practice. I think that most, if not all, of the freshmen participating in the NAC, will do very well."

Bree and McGinnis will make their Duke debuts Saturday and Sunday in the women's and men's epee competitions, respectively.  De Caire and Stone will join Di Tella in Sunday's men's saber competition with Sapienza rounding outthe Blue Devils' weekend in the women's saber event Sunday.

Duke's competitors will be among the 1,800 fencers converging on Detroit for the week, with the Blue Devils competing in Division I. There are also Division II, Cadet and Wheelchair categories, and Beguinet noted that the event marks the start of Olympic qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Games, though he said many of the Olympians from Rio will not be participating.

"We have only been working together in practice for about four weeks, but we think that our fencers will be certainly be able to use some of the skills they've been honing and sharpening with each other and with our coaches, to good results," Beguinet said. "We are sure that the conditioning modules they have been participating in will serve them well too."

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