Nearly eight months have passed since Duke fans last saw the Blue Devils compete, but not much has changed with this squad, and they’re coming back even better. Last year’s Blue Devils did not disappoint on the strip, taking the ACC Championship by storm and collecting the titles in both the men’s and women’s divisions while garnering 11 individual medals at the tournament—a program record. One month later, the group headed to State College, Pa., prepared for the final bouts needed to take the national title. Though they didn’t finish with the victory, the group fared well. In the women’s division, Alexandra Gorman grasped sixth and Anneke Zegers took 10th in saber; Christina Ferrari finished fifth and Louise Tang clutched 10th in foil; and Sarah Lurye seized 12th in epée. In the men’s division, Stephen Kim clinched fifth and Ping Ping Kitsiriboon took 18th in saber; Finn Hossfeld tied for third and Brycen Rushing finished 12th in foil; and Jason Post took sixth in epée.
All of the placers except Kitsiriboon and Rushing are returning to competition this season. Along with this group, head coach Alex Beguinet also brings a group of promising freshmen who may be critical to a team that could lead the collegiate fencing world.
The coaches preseason poll ranks this Duke squad 10th in the men’s division and 12th in the women’s—a low standing for the team in comparison to previous years. However, Beguinet wants the Blue Devil faithful to know that if anything, “these placements will spur our fencers to show they belong higher.” And if Beguinet’s statement rings true, then Duke fencing is the squad to pay attention to.
New fencers to watch
Men’s: Cam Evans, foil
With a background at the Fencing Academy of Westchester, this Greenwich, Conn., native made the trek to Durham following years of racking up high-level accolades at the high school level. The freshman foil clinched a third-place ranking at the Cadet Junior Olympics and went on several North American Cup podiums. His resume includes a sixth-place finish at the 2019 World Championship Torun and a ninth at the European Championship. But his most eye-catching win came as no surprise—Evans took first at the Junior World Cup in 2019. With accomplishments of these feats, Evans will be an asset to Duke fencing and fill in the hole left behind by several high-scoring seniors who helped lead the team last season.
Women’s: Rachel Kowalsky, epée
The Oyster Bay, N.Y., native, comes to Duke with a depth of experience in her hands. She competed for the New York Fencing Academy under head coach Sergey Danilov, a former Junior National Champion and a National Travel Team member for Team Russia. Having titles such as second-team All-American and first-team All-Academic, Kowalsky is the real deal. She’s competed at the Junior Olympics on several occasions and has two gold medals from the Maccabi games in individual epée and team competition. With Kowalsky in tow, it’s no question why Duke is even furthermore in the conversation for a national title.
Returning fencers to watch
Men’s: Finn Hossfield, foil
With several prestigious accomplishments under his belt, Hossfield is the headliner of this Duke squad. The Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., native, finished third at the national level for the foil, the highest-ranking of any fencer on the team. His expertise on the piste was one of the main factors in how Duke took its second ACC title in program history. Accolades such as All-American, ACC Fencer of the Year and ACC Gold Medalist adorn his sports resume—but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this foil superstar. With Hossfield returning this year, fans should and can expect another great outcome from Duke come tournament time.
Women’s: Zoe Superville, foil
The Woodmere, N.Y. native was one of the pioneers of last year’s squad—helping lead the team to its first ACC title and finishing as the ACC Fencer of the Year. Despite finishing the ACC tournament as the conference’s top foil, Superville missed last year’s NCAA Championship due to COVID-19 protocol. In 2020, Superville was named an All-America honoree. With an opportunity to compete in the tournament she planned to take by storm this season, Beguinet expects that Superville will “start the season on fire.”
Most anticipated tournament: NCAA Championship, March 24 - 27
After finishing the ACC with a clean sweep in the tournament last season, the Blue Devils headed to nationals prepared and ready to win. However, some of collegiate fencing’s top placers competed and overpowered Duke’s roster. With fencers out due to COVID-19 health and safety protocol, the Blue Devils just didn’t have all the power it needed to take the title.
“We always think they have what it takes to be national champions,” Beguinet said. “Sometimes life gets in the way.”
This year is different as some of the nation’s top first-year fencers are now in competition on Duke’s roster. Along with that, three of the fencers who finished before Gorman, who placed sixth in saber, have graduated—leaving room for a higher placement.
“Having as deep a squad as possible in each of the disciplines has helped us still feel strong in who we are traveling this season,” Beguinet said.”
Just as their greatest hope is to win at nationals, the best possible outcome for the Blue Devils is that the hard work they have put in this season gives them their first program national title. Duke has all the workings to have a squad that can potentially take home the championship, but it depends on whether there is enough improvement on the piste that the roster features some more All-Americans. Time will tell what the team can do, but with two top-15 rankings, this squad is well on its way to national success.
If competition doesn’t pan out as expected and the Blue Devils as a whole cannot finish tournaments with high rankings, there is a potential that the group doesn’t win again at the ACC tournament. However, even if the team this year is not as good as last year, it is doubtful it will finish last in the conference, as current Duke fencers have solid resumes that will likely set them up for success on the strip.
Men’s: 1st in the ACC, 3rd at NCAA Championships
Women’s: 1st in the ACC, 4th at NCAA Championships
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Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.