Morgan Fencing Hitting Its Mark in First Varsity Year
Junior Nola Neri, senior captains Erin Barnett and junior Andrew Tessman, and the entire Morgan fencing program are having an impressive first season in the varsity ranks while gearing up for the postseason. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/Harbor News)
In its first season moving from the ranks of a club to an official varsity squad, the Morgan fencing team has adjusted rather nicely to the big stage-something evidenced with emphasis in a recent home meet against North Branford.
The Huskies hosted the T-Birds on Feb. 19 and showcased their prowess by notching three victories out of the four team bouts on the evening. Girls' varsity continued its strong campaign by prevailing 11-5 while girls' JV edged out North Branford 9-7. Additionally, the girls' novice group tied 8-8, yet won a tiebreaker based on indicators-meaning the Huskies scored more touches on the strip during the match.
Despite parting ways with several graduates from last year's club that finished sixth overall at states, Head Coach Jim Barnett stated that this unit is showing the diligence of a savvy veteran squad.
"We really are a brand new team after being a club squad the past two years," said Barnett, who is in his third season at the helm. "We graduated four boys that helped start the program [Stephen Barnett, Ryan Caprio, Jon Chann, and Patrick McAllister] and finished third at states two years ago and sixth last season [in boys' foil], plus we've taken on seven new fencers. But they are a young squad that is really working hard and has progressed, especially girls' varsity, and I'm hoping by the time we reach states, they are where I need them to be in reaching the top eight to qualify for team states [on Saturday, March 14 at Bridgeport Central]."
Also on the night against North Branford, boys' varsity took a close 9-7 loss to move to 1-7 on the season. The girls' varsity team improved to 7-1 on the campaign with its wins and Barnett said this will be the first occasion in which that squad will compete in states.
"One of the big keys to our program's success is that the entire team is bonding as a whole. Whether it's varsity, JV, or novice, they are all getting along and bonding," said Barnett. "They are a tight team, whether boys or girls. They all work together and with each other. The older fencers are also helping the younger ones and pulling them off to the side to help and give them advice. They are blending amazingly well as a team."
In terms of individual performances against the T-Birds, juniors Nola Neri (last season's Most Improved Player award recipient), Amanda Thompson, and Caleigh Heske each went 3-1 for girls' varsity. On the boys' varsity end, juniors of captain Andrew Tessman and Paul Nangle both drew a 3-1 mark. For girls' JV, freshmen Emma Riccio (3-1) and Gaby Bussiere (3-1) had superb outings, along with fellow freshman Nina Kelly (3-1 for girls' novice).
"This team has really consistently grown over the last three years. We've gone from about four to six fencers in our first year to now 18," said Barnett. "Our progress keeps growing. We've seen a lot of interest in the community with people coming to our matches, along with 8th graders being excited about being part of the program in the future."
Much like many other winter sports squads in the state this year, the snow has wreaked havoc on the Huskies' slate with four meets being postponed due to weather. Still, Morgan has some time left in the regular season before the Individual State Championship on Saturday, March 7 to gear up its postseason roster that includes 2013-'14 Second Team All-State senior captain Erin Barnett, Heske, and Nangle for épée competition; Neri, Thompson, and sophomore Julia Horan for girls' varsity foil; plus Tessman and senior Dan Ayotte on boys' varsity foil.
"We have some matches down the stretch that will help us prepare for states," said Barnett. "We primarily fence foil, but we will be sending three kids for épée to states. My goal is to give varsity as many individual lessons as possible between now and then and talk to them about who they will potentially face. We will talk about strategies, but it also involves conditioning because states is always a long day so they will be ramping up their cardio and stamina."