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For the third straight year, both the Guilford boys’ and girls’ fencing squads celebrate with their respective overall state titles after putting together exceptional performances at the Team State Championships, which were held at East Lyme High School on March 10. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Guilford girls’ fencing team saw second-place finishes in épée and foil and also finished third for sabre to claim its third consecutive overall state title in the Team State Championship. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Leo Westgard earned All-State First Team honors as a sabre fencer for the Indians this year. The Guilford boys’ sabre team finished in first place at the recent Team State Championship to help the Indians take the overall title for the third year in a row. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Consistency and depth can take teams far in the sport of fencing, and the Guilford fencing program has used these two traits to add to its trophy case on a consistent basis during the past several years. Guilford’s depth and consistency were on display once again at the recent Team State Championships, where the Indians saw both their boys’ and girls’ teams claim state titles for the third straight season.
Guilford entered the Team State Championships having claimed the last two overall state crowns for the boys’ and girls’ competitions, and the Indians made it a three-peat by once again finishing first in both tournaments at East Lyme High School on March 10. The girls’ team took the title behind the cumulative finish of its second-place finishes in foil and épée, along with a third-place performance for sabre. Meanwhile, the boys won their title by finishing first in foil and sabre to go with a runner-up showing in épée. The Guilford girls now have five overall state championships in program history, and the boys have won four.
“We were really confident going into the tournament. The entire season, we’ve been a very confident squad, and we had to show we were still the best team in the state,” said Zak Talbot, a senior captain and sabre fencer for the boys’ team. “Having our team win in sabre was a huge deal, because we were able to defeat the only team [North Haven] in the state that gave us a loss. They’ve been one of our stronger opponents throughout the year, and to win a state title, especially against our rivals, is the best way I can think of to end my senior year.”
The Guilford boys’ foil team was the top seed heading into its tournament and won the title by edging out Hopkins in the final. The team was led by senior Brendan Balestracci, senior captain Joran Nelson, and junior Evans Schultes. The boys’ sabre squad was also the top seed and defeated North Haven for the title with junior Eric Lepeak, Talbot, and junior Leo Westgard leading the charge. The épée team was seeded 2nd and finished second to Woodland, led by junior Oscar Scott, Caden Kozub, and Bailey Meyers.
On the girls’ side, junior Isabelle Labelle, sophomore Lindsey Smith, and fellow sophomore Ella Stanley competed for the top-seeded foil group that finished second to North Haven. Sophomore Gracie Banning and senior co-captains Micayla O’Connor and Faren Roth fenced for the 4th-seeded épée team that placed second behind Fitch. The fencers for the 2nd-seeded sabre team that finished third were junior Grace Beatty, sophomore Shayla Flynn, and Anna Angkatavanich.
“Girls’ épée has been working hard to make it to the final round of states for three years now, and we were excited it finally happened this year. I’m incredibly happy and proud to receive the title of overall state champions,” Roth said. “For Guilford fencing, the team as a whole has always been our focus. Every Guilford fencer shares the same goal of winning the overall title at the end of the season. I’m so glad that everything we’ve done has paid off, and I’m so happy and appreciative to have been a part of this amazing and supportive team for four years.”
On the boys’ foil team’s path to the top of the podium, Guilford defeated Bridgeport Central 5-2 in the first round, North Haven 5-2 in the semifinals, and Hopkins 5-3 in the championship clash. The sabre squad opened with a 5-1 triumph over Cheshire in the quarters, blanked Hopkins 5-0, and then bested North Haven 5-2 for the title. In the épée draw, the Indians beat Greenwich 5-0 and the Marine Sciences Magnet School 5-3, before taking a 5-3 loss to Woodland in the final.
For the girls épée team, the Indians defeated Fairfield 5-2 and Morgan 5-2 in the first two rounds and then took a 5-3 loss to Fitch in the final. The foil squad took down Hopkins 5-1 in the quarterfinals, and then blanked Lyme-Old Lyme 5-0 to advance to the championship match, which saw them drop a 5-4 decision against North Haven. In girls’ sabre, Guilford started off with a 5-1 win over North Haven and then took 5-2 semifinal loss against Greenwich. In the battle for the bronze, Guilford prevailed 5-3 over Morgan.
In reflecting upon his team’s masterful performance at states, Indians’ Head Coach Kyle Mezzi praised his entire program for truly exemplifying what it means to work and compete as a group.
“Everybody pulled their weight at different times and came up big in different situations,” said Mezzi. “In the first round of boys’ sabre, we had [senior alternate] Rishi Nallur lose his first match, but then came back and won his second that clinched the first round for them. That was big for us, because it gave us momentum and showed our depth. In boys’ foil, Joran Nelson clinched the gold for them with a tough bout against Hopkins. I had people throughout the day coming up to me and telling me how we really fenced as a team. They show that they had a mentality to go in there and fence for everyone on the team. It’s selfless mentality.”
The weekend before the Team State Championships, the Indians fenced at the Individual State Championships that took place at Hopkins on March 3 and 5. Guilford had 10 medalists at the meet; medals were given to the top eight fencers in each discipline. Roth went undefeated to take the gold in girls’ épée, while Meyers finished first in the boys’ épée tournament for Guilford. In terms of the Indians’ other medalists, Scott earned third place in boys’ épée, Stanley took the bronze and Smith placed sixth in girls’ foil, Schultes finished fourth in boys’ foil, Westgard took fourth and Talbot was eighth in boys’ sabre, plus Flynn finished sixth and Angkatavanich came in seventh in girls’ sabre.
Meyers, Scott, Schultes, and Westgard made the All-State First Team, and Talbot earned Second Team distinction for the boys. Roth and Stanley made the All-State First Team for the girls, while Smith, Flynn, and Angkatavanich were Second Team honorees.
Additionally for girls’ épée, Banning took 15th place and O’Connor finished 46th at the Individual State Championships. In boys’ épée, Kozub finished in 46th place. For girls’ foil, Labelle placed 22nd for the Indians. For boys’ foil, Balestracci finished 12th and Nelson was 30th. For boys’ sabre, Lepeak placed 10th. In the girls’ sabre tournament, Beatty took 15th place for the Indians.
While seeing a great deal of success in his seven years at the helm, Coach Mezzi said that every campaign stands out for one reason or another. When closing the book on the 2017-’18 chapter of his program, Mezzi said that this edition of the Indians will be known as one that dazzled on the strip with its deep talent pool and composure in the spotlight.
“Every year is a little bit different, but this year was special, because all six squads took home trophies. It shows the strength of our team. We also had depth in certain areas. For boys’ sabre, we had six guys get varsity bouts this season,” said Mezzi. “In girls’ épée, we had two team captains leading the charge, and they knew what had to get done. They came in as the No. 4 seed, but they went to work and fought their hearts out in the final. For the whole team, I was impressed with all their hard work and how they supported each other.”
From the Sidelines
The complete roster of athletes who competed for the Guilford girls’ fencing squad at the Team State Championships were seniors Faren Roth and Micayla O’Connor and sophomores Gracie Banning and Valerie Qiang for épée; junior Isabelle Labelle, plus sophomores Lindsey Smith, Ella Stanley, and Abby Pickney in foil; and junior Grace Beatty, along with sophomores Anna Angkatavanich, Shayla Flynn, and Adella Cho in sabre.
For the boys’ team, its competitors at states were juniors Oscar Scott, Caden Kozub, Bailey Meyers, and Michael Pimenta for épée; seniors Joran Nelson, Brendan Balestracci, and Matt Gedrich, plus junior Evans Schultes for foil; and seniors Zak Talbot and Rishi Nallur, along with juniors Leo Westgard and Eric Lepeak in sabre.
Chris Balestracci and Charles Schnieder were the Indians’ assistant coaches this winter.
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