By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor
In the early years of the program, Johanna Snedeker could only dream of this sort of success for Montgomery High girls fencing.
“When we started we had one win a year,” the Montgomery coach said. “This is our 10th anniversary year and each year we have built and built and built. We had a little dip a few years ago but it has been getting more and more popular as a sport. The kids love it and enjoy it. I find they are getting involved younger and younger and when they come to us in high school many have already experienced the sport with the recreation program or a club team.”
This season has been the Cougars most successful. On Wednesday they defeated 12-time champion Columbia in the state team final, 16-11, in a match held at Morris Hills. The Cougars finished with a 6-3 advantage in epee and sabre, while taking foil, 5-4. Last weekend at the state squad championships the Cougars were the most impressive team in the field.
The Montgomery foil squad captured the state championship, while the epee squad was third and the foil squad finished fifth. The foil squad of May Tieu on A strip, Laura Sun on B strip, and Elizabeth Tieu on C strip finished the day with 53 wins.
“We were top five in all three weapons,” Snedeker said. “The fifth in sabre came against some very challenging competition. And we were third in epee and first in foil. “May was not with us earlier this year at the Santelli but she was here to fence with us this week. She certainly brings a lot of experience and deepens our foil squad.
“We have so much depth with the whole team. They are a talented group of young ladies.”
The epee squad of Nasya Hristov, Melissa Louie, Madison Larkin and Chloe Sofield finished third, while the sabre squad of Brenda Yang, Helen Zhang, Emily Zhao and Phoebe Lai was fifth.
The exceptional results last weekend are something Snedeker would love to share with everyone who has helped build the MHS program.
“We had some talented people start us off, but took a while for us to get to have the depth we have now,” the Cougar coach said. “We have incredible depth and that has be the difference. The other day we were missing four starters but based on the score you couldn’t tell.
“A lot of girls got an opportunity this year. We also had the first Somerset County Tournament and we won that. We went undefeated in the conference. It was a great season.”
The Montgomery girls were not alone in enjoying success last weekend. On the boys side, West Windsor-Plainsboro North captured the state epee title behind the efforts of William Zhang, Prashant Baliga, Amit Sarma and Danush Gupta.
“Our philosophy overall is that we can beat anyone as long as we try our best,” Zhang said. “We didn’t start out strong in the morning. Amit had to come late from taking the SAT. Prashant and I were a bit tired from morning but as we went on eventually we fenced better and better and kept winning.
“We didn’t really think about being the best in the state but after we finishes first at the Cetrullo we thought maybe we could be the best team in the state.”
Sarma, a junior, has been fencing with seniors Zhang and Baliga for the last three years. They have continued to get better and better each year and enjoyed their best season this year.”
“It was a great experience,” Sarma said. “We were really close to winning last year. We had the same lineup and we felt really confident that we would do well this year. We know how we each fence and what we need to work on and where our weaknesses lie.
“In all of the tournaments we have had a good feel for each other so we could predict how we would do and focus on specific bouts. I wasn’t there in the beginning on Saturday so they didn’t have me the first four or five bouts. I came in later and fenced well the rest of the day. We did really well. We didn’t have any expectations for how the day would go. We just wanted to fence our best and see how we could do.”
The three have fenced together the last three years and also compete outside of high school. They have formed a special bond competing for the Knights.
“This is our third year together,” Zhang said. “We have maintained the same squad since Amit got here. We have a good team overall. Some people graduate and some are new. We have stayed pretty consistent.”
The epee squad is part of a growing program at North where younger siblings lead their younger ones into the sport.
“I started in sixth grade,” Sarma said. “When my sister graduated I had taken her stuff to use. No one told me it was women’s gear until I went to my first tournament and then I decided to get my own stuff.”
In addition to the boys epee, the Knights also had two quads place in the girls side. The epee squad of Tianna Kwok, Kristina Khaw and Lillian Chen finished fourth, while the sabre squad of Celine Demorre, Sophia Zhuang and Michelle Tong was sixth.
Sarma (epee), Zhang (epee), Demorre (sabre) Kwok (epee) and Khaw (epee) will compete in the state individual tournament on Saturday at Livingston High School.
By Bob Nuse, Sports Editor