Like every other collegiate program in America, the U.C. San Diego fencing team wasn’t sure if they’d ever get a chance to have a season. Their conference championships were delayed seven times so head coach Juan Ignacio Calderon says his team found a little thread of hope.
“And everybody held onto that. Now that thread of hope has turned into a thread of ambition. We ended up doing great.”
That is an understatement. For the first time in program history, both the Tritons men’s and women’s programs won conference titles to send all 12 of their fencers to the National Championships.
“All that work has paid off and we have a unique opportunity to go for a national championship because there are actually only three schools that have qualified a full team,” Says Calderon.
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The other two are Notre Dame and Penn State (this year’s host school), two powerhouses who’ve combined to win six of the last 11 National Championships. Having all your fencers there is important because the team title goes to the squad that wins the most bouts over the entire competition.
The Tritons know they’re major underdogs. They just don’t care.
“I think we have a pretty good shot at it just because of our team culture and our mindset,” says senior Epee specialist Emma Zmurk. “Like coach said we’ve been hanging on to a thread and now that it’s there I feel like we can just go out and grab it.”
Zmurk is one of just three seniors on the team. The epee specialist went to the National Championships as a freshman and understands the grind that awaits.
“I’ve been trying really hard to just push myself and get my endurance as good as it can get before this competition because I know how tiring it can be,” says Zmurk.
They’ll fence up to 15 bouts in one day, all in about a two-and-a-half-hour window, so the mental challenge might be even tougher than the physical exertion.
“I’ve gotten in my head a lot when thinking about the past and thinking if I’d changed this I could have produced a different outcome,” says Zmurk. “So I think just really not trying to think about any of the numbers can really be useful in just focusing on what’s in front of you and … I don’t know … just have a good time.”
The Tritons had a good time on Day 1 in Pennsylvania. Led by Justin Cho in the saber competition and Vedran Markota in the epee, U.C. San Diego is sitting in 4th place and squarely in striking distance of the 1st place Fightin’ Irish. Competition continues through Saturday.