“Our house, our house, our house!” reverberated off the walls of Card Gymnasium this weekend before the fifth-ranked Duke women entered their last matchup of the day against Air Force. Gathered in a circle with their hands wrapped around one another’s backs, the Blue Devils filled the room with their stomps and cheers in an impressive display of team spirit. In a weekend of up-and-down performances, this energy was perhaps the key to the women going undefeated at the only home meet of the season.
The Blue Devil women started off their impressive run on Sunday with dominant victories against Division-III foes No. 1 Johns Hopkins (20-7) and No. 4 Brandeis (22-5), achieving winning records within each discipline. No. 9 Temple posed much more of a challenge for the Blue Devils, who squeaked by 14-13 in large part due to the strength of Duke’s foil fencers. The meet ended in dramatic fashion with a competitive matchup against the Falcons, intensified by the fact that head coach Omar Elgeziry spent four years as the head coach at Air Force prior to arriving at Duke this season.
“I was always excited to come to the Duke meet and now I am a part of the Duke meet,” Elgeziry said. “It felt good that I’m here, that I’m part of it and that I'm running it. The energy was high and up, and I felt a part of it.”
The Blue Devils drew first blood with two quick wins in foil, including one by freshman Charlotte Koenig. The New York native went 5-0 Sunday, an impressive feat considering her recent return to the sport after recovering from any injury most of the fall season. The Falcons responded in no time, making up the difference shortly after with wins against Zizi Newhard in foil and Monica Balakrishnan in epee.
As the tension in Card Gym ramped up, bouts became increasingly physical and the Blue Devils showcased a newfound aggression. Sophomore Rachel Koo had an early lead before a fall off the strip allowed her opponent to even the playing field 3-3. It was then that a particularly fast infight led to both fencers toppling to the floor. Duke fans frustrated at the lack of a call on the collision were soon overjoyed when Koo pushed the Falcon down the piste to win two consecutive points and close out the bout to the sound of “Let’s go Duke!” chants.
The matchup ended with yet another dramatic foil bout, with senior Elisha Tan’s opponent suffering an injury just as the San Diego native was able to secure a lead. Spectators were on the edge of their seats at the Air Force subbed in a new fencer that quickly evened the score. Just a few seconds before the clock ran out, Tan kicked into a new gear and found a touch that would secure the 17-10 win for the team. The Blue Devils immediately rushed to Tan, celebrating her victory with hugs and cheers.
The men did not fare as well this weekend, with three consecutive heartbreaking losses Saturday. Despite standout performances from freshman Samir Travers (8-1) and senior Stephen Kim (7-2) leading the saber team, the Blue Devils fell to both Brandeis and the Air Force by one bout. Many fencers faced a 4-4 score that they were unable to convert into a win.
“We need to go in very focused from the beginning,” Elgeziry said. “At the beginning of the match, we should be locking in … The other thing is learning more how to win collectively. The saber squad was going undefeated all day but then men's epee and men's foil were struggling a little bit and they were winning sometimes. Sometimes foil did well, sometimes epee did well, but they didn't do that simultaneously or collectively.”
The team wrapped up the meet by gathering in a circle once again, but this time with all the parents that cheered them on over the weekend and throughout the season. For some fencers, this weekend’s invitational was the last they would compete in donning a Duke uniform.
“I felt that this is a family and I felt all our parents are a very tight community,” Elgeziry said. “You've seen the stands were filled with parents, and they were behind us every match, every bout.”
Looking ahead to the postseason, the Blue Devils next take on the ACC Championships in South Bend, Ind., from Feb. 24-25.
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