As the Blue Devils return to action in the coming weeks, one thing is likely on their minds for the 2022-23 season: redemption. After winning the ACC title in 2021 and earning 11 individual titles at the tournament to set a program record, Duke fell short of expectations in its last campaign despite an impressive regular season. Losing out to national champion Notre Dame in its efforts for a back-to-back championship, both the men’s and women’s sides will look to rebound and restore their ACC supremacy.
Despite falling short as a team, there are plenty of key returners on the Blue Devil squad who will lead the charge as coach Alex Beguinet returns six of seven NCAA qualifiers. For the men, Duke senior and saber specialist Terence Lee will once again be a staple on the strip as he comes off a second-place finish at the NCAA tournament last season. He will be joined by fellow All-American senior Finn Hossfeld, who finished ninth at the NCAAs in men’s foil. On the women’s side, junior Christina Ferrari will likely be a key member of the women’s team once again after her 11th-place finish in the NCAA tournament for women’s foil. She will be backed up by sophomore Catherine Flanagan in the foil while senior Anneke Zegers will look to dominate in the saber event after her 24th-place finish at nationals. Lee, Hossfeld and Ferrari are joined by Zsofia Walter to round out an experienced quartet of captains who will combine experience and fresh talent to capitalize on last year’s momentum and go after another ACC title.
In the preseason poll by the United States Fencing Coaches’ Association, the men checked in at No. 7 while the women were placed at No. 10, which is a step up from their preseason rankings last year. The Blue Devils will be up against some tough ACC competition, with adversary Notre Dame coming in at No. 1 and No. 2 in the men’s and women’s polls, respectively. -Mackenzie Sheehy
New fencer to watch: Skylar Knight, foil
Representing Team USA internationally, the Palo Alto, Calif., native pushed her foil team to capture gold at the 2019 Pan American Junior Championships and silver the following year. Nationally, she is at the Division IA level with a second-place finish in the 2021 Fortune Fencing Regional Open Circuit, and she marked a fifth-place finish in the 2021 July Challenge in junior women’s foil.
Knight’s international experience gives her an edge over her opponents, allowing her to get a “different sense of where she is in the hierarchy of the top fencers in the country,” according to Elizabeth Beguinet, the team’s director of administration and recruiting. At the same time, international experience allows Knight to bring a variety of lessons for the team.
“Being calm—they'll be able to face different styles, different defense techniques, and being able to adapt to them at different countries because some countries have different styles,” Alex Beguinet said. “We are learning how to fence different styles—you should have them when they are fencing in the NCAA competitions."
As a whole, the team’s seven new freshmen add a burst of energy and skill to a team culture that “we’ve always been trying to foster,” according to Elizabeth Beguinet.
“I cannot tell which one is a freshman and which is an upperclassman because they mesh so well,” Alex Beguinet said. “It’s amazing how they fit in with the upperclassmen, and it makes me feeling very, very well.” -Audrey Wang
Returning fencers to watch: Terence Lee, saber
The 2022 ACC Fencer of the Year stamped his name in the program’s history books with a bronze at the 2022 ACC Championship before topping his performance with a second-place finish at the NCAA Championship. He concluded the NCAA Championship with the second-best finish in the men’s program's history, knocking out top seed Fares Ferjani of St. John's 15-14 in the semifinals on his way to the championship bout. Following his performance, he added to his list of accolades after being named to the USFCA’s National Collegiate First Team and the College Sports Information Directors of America 2022 Academic All-District III At-Large Team.
Yet, Lee himself never expected this impressive record—after returning to the fray after an injury in his first season and taking two years off, last year was actually his first formal season as a Blue Devil. He referred to his 26-13 regular season record as “nothing suggesting I’d medal.”
Yet, “all the ups and downs throughout the season,” he said, motivated his performance in the ACC and NCAA Championships, as his methodical mental preparation and strategizing brought his performance to new levels. He has previously expressed his love for fencing for its tactical nature. Saber, the swiftest of the three blades, is specially made for this skill:
“You don’t have that much time to wait and think. You have to make your decision really quickly, and sometimes you have to make your decision before you even start the bout,” Lee said. “Since I was young, I quite liked [strategizing] and developing a plan to beat your opponent.”
That love for strategy ultimately served him well. Before the NCAA Championship, Lee spent a week solely on mental preparation—“focusing on every single point; visualization of me fencing against different athletes, strategizing and devising a plan against every single athlete.” In addition to his mental strength, Lee also brings athletic power and speed—an “exceptional young person by the physical ability,” according to Alex Beguinet.
“He's very athletic. He's very quick. He's a very good learner,” he said. “Last year, he did very well—I can say for the results—and this year, he wants to do even better. I'm sure he could.” -Wang
Most anticipated tournament: ACC Championship, Feb. 25-26
One of the biggest goals for the Blue Devils is to end the year with a bang—and that starts with the ACC Championship.
Despite kicking off the 2022 ACC Championship on a high note with six individual medals on the first day, the team fell just short of Notre Dame. When the dust settled on the second day, the men’s team finished with a bronze and the women’s team finished in second place, while the Fighting Irish swept both events.
Yet, the Blue Devils have room for redemption, combining veteran talent with seven fresh faces that are sure to add a burst of new energy to the team. All six of the individual placers on the team are returning for the 2023 season, and the team returns with six of the seven 2022 NCAA qualifiers. The ACC Championship therefore offers a first glimpse at the Blue Devils’ performance at the NCAA Championship just a few weeks later.
“What they learned is they want to come back—that was the main issue. They want to do it again. For some of them, it will be the last chance to do it,” Alex Beguinet said. “They are very eager to grow and be able to compete at the NCAA, and on top of that, it’d be at Duke.”
Before then, the team will face formidable competition—especially as they look for a repeat against Notre Dame, which is fresh off a second-consecutive NCAA championship and itching for a third. Boston College, which edged out Duke for a second-place finish on the men’s team, is also looking to improve its record on its home court. -Wang
After gaining momentum last season, the Blue Devils have the potential to win another ACC title on both the men’s and women’s sides. They certainly have the talent to contend with the top teams in the nation and are returning some of the nation’s best fencers to their roster. If their squad can qualify even more fencers to the NCAA tournament this year while increasing their number of All-Americans, they have a shot at making the podium, if not garnering a first-ever national title. -Sheehy
Like last year, the Blue Devils could fall just short of their potential despite immense talent and momentum. Going up against the tough competition they will face in the ACC, Duke’s fencers could simply find their backs against the wall in this year’s campaign. If they can’t handle the hit and don’t finish with high rankings at their tournaments, they may struggle in the postseason. However, many Blue Devils have solid resumes that should see the team place well within the ACC and among national competition. -Sheehy
Men's: 2nd in the ACC
Women's: 2nd in the ACC
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Audrey Wang is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.