A tradition of greatness

Last year, the St. John’s fencing team wrapped up a successful season, finishing second at the NCAA championships and dominating teams throughout the season. This year, a number of challenges face the team as it tries to repeat last year’s run at the championship.

Head coach Yuri Gelman, who has 40 years of fencing experience, set the bar high for his team.

“The team is pretty good,” he said. “We’re going to be around fourth place or better.”

Gelman plans to implement the same basic strategy that has worked for him over his 40-year fencing career, including a championship title in 2001.

“Practice hard, compete hard, and win,” Gelman said of the guidance he gives his players. “There is no other specific strategy. The strategy is to win.”

The fencing program is proud of its stellar practice program and relentless recruiting tactics. It is these factors that coach Gelman believes led St. John’s to national recognition. And the nation certainly recognizes St. John’s after its silver medal finish early in the year. The team as a whole scored 176 points in the championships, only 18 points behind first-place Penn State. Altogether, the Red Storm finished with eight top-six finishes.

“I was pleased with the results last year,” Gelman said. “The play of our leaders and seniors was exceptional. Now it’s time to focus on this year, using last year as an example.”

Another strategy this year may be replacing the leadership and skills of two players who did not return this year. Dagmara Wozniak, whose 16 victories and 97 touches scored was good for fifth place in the championships, took the year off to compete in the sabre event in the Olympics. She won the Olympic trials for her age group. Also missing this year is Ben Bratton, who graduated last spring. Bratton competed in the epee event, taking home an individual silver medal at the NCAA’s, a story-book ending to his extraordinary collegiate career.

“Ben and Dagmara were excellent fencers, but they are gone, so let’s not focus on them,”Gelman said.

Senior sabre fighter, Luther Clement, will be looked to for leadership. Not only does he lead with his weapon of choice, he also is a model student, winning the Robbins Scholar Athlete award. This award honors athleticism, academics, and outstanding community service.

Also returning for the men in the sabre event is Torian Brown, while freshman Luis Perla prepares for his first season. For the foil event, Henry Kennard and Alexis Landreville return for competition and junior Stan Vaksman will lead the epee event.
Ela Grey returns for the women to compete in the sabre event and will take freshmen Tonya Dainoski and Martyna Wieczorek under her wing. Two seniors will lead the women in the foil event as Monika Golebiewski and Katia Larchanka return for their final seasons. Tonya Novakovska and Reka Szele will lead the Red Storm in the epee event.

The Storm will also be looking forward to the St. John’s Invitational, where it went undefeated last year.

“Notre Dame and Ohio State will be challenging match ups,” Gelman said. “They are strong programs and huge teams. They have facilities that we don’t have and are led by strong coaches.
“[St. John’s does] everything they can, but it is not enough,” Gelman added. “We have been promised a fencing room for eight years, but we still don’t have it. Fencers have to travel to [Manhattan] to practice. Otherwise, the school helps as much as it can.”

The fencing team kicks off its season on November 9. The men are ranked fifth in the nation in the Coach’s Poll, while the women are ranked sixth.