Duke fencing narrowly falls to Harvard, dominates Eric Sollee Invitational

Duke fencing split its weekend meets in Massachusetts.
Duke fencing split its weekend meets in Massachusetts.

One of the most important characteristics of a successful team is its ability to bounce back from losses. As much as fencing demands technical prowess on the piste, the sport also requires an intrinsic belief in one’s ability to win. 

No. 9 Duke’s self-confidence was on full display this weekend as it dominated at the Eric Sollee Invitational just a day after a disappointing loss to Harvard.

“We're trying to go undefeated, which is a great feeling to go in, but sometimes we need to be prepared that we'll get some losses,” said head coach Omar Elgeziry. “I feel that on the women’s side, we're really showing how strong the team is. We went in, we lost to Harvard on the first day and on the second day, we dropped only one match. Overall, it was successful.”

Both the Blue Devil men and women ended Saturday’s team-style tournament with winning records for the second time this season. Just last week, the team put together an impressive performance at the Philadelphia Open to go 6-4 in the men’s and 10-2 in the women’s. The Blue Devils managed to top these records at the Eric Sollee Invitational with the women going undefeated.

The women’s dominant display was led by sophomore Monica Balakrishnan, who walked away with 13 victories and only two losses in epee. Not far behind her was freshman Charlotte Koenig with 12 wins in foil. The New York native had a breakout performance this weekend, with her first ever win as a Blue Devil against Harvard on Friday. Despite being new to the team and missing the first half of the season due to injury, Koenig has wasted no time showing that she has what it takes to win at the highest level. 

“She's one of our strong starters in women's foil. She's in the top 15 nationally ranked in the senior level. Charlotte is very, very competitive,” Elgeziry said. “For us last semester, she was injured and it was a little bit nerve-wracking, as in we didn't know when she'll start next semester. Now she came back and she fenced very, very well.”

Koenig brings even more talent to an already skilled team, competing alongside co-captain Christina Ferrari and fellow freshman Sophia Shen, who both did well this weekend. In fact, the entire women’s foil team had no more than two losses each on Saturday, allowing it to comfortably defeat all opposing teams.

The men’s team also continued its winning streak this weekend with a 3-1 showing. Senior co-captain Stephen Kim led the team’s efforts with a perfect 10–0 performance Saturday. The 2021 ACC Fencer of the Year led the men’s team in wins, only followed by junior Xander Wilcox who went 8-2 in epee. Elgeziry was previously quoted saying that the men’s team was “slowly moving in the right direction,” and this weekend’s win is certainly a step forward for the men that are seemingly only getting stronger week by week.

The mastery demonstrated by the men and women Saturday was a testament to their ability to learn from their mistakes Friday. The team began the weekend on the wrong foot with a 16-11 loss to Harvard on both sides. Despite sophomore Kunling Tong’s 5-1 victory at the start of the meet, the women’s saber team was unable to upset the No. 4 Harvard women. The Blue Devils fought tooth-and-nail but were ultimately unable to come away with winning records in women’s epee and foil, making all the difference in the final score. 

The men did not fare any better Friday against the fifth-ranked Crimson, trailing in all three disciplines by the end of the meet. Wilcox and Allen Marakov were able to come away with winning records in epee but not by enough to tip the score in Duke’s favor. 

When asked about the loss, Elgziry reflected the team’s positive mindset. 

“I challenged the students and myself,” he said. “We put two events in two different places and the travel was short and it was quick. It was pretty stressful in that aspect. In the meantime, we managed very, very well under pressure, so that's something that I'm very proud of.”

The Blue Devils will return for the Duke Invitational Feb. 10-11 in Card Gymnasium. While the tournament marks a special Centennial celebration for the program, it also presents the team with an opportunity to collect two more wins on home soil.

“We're looking at how we're going to continue the success that we've been doing, especially on the women's side, so the hope is to go undefeated in our home meet,” Elgeziry said. “Men and women, we’re capable of doing it.”


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