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Ethan Sabetta is a junior captain for a North Branford fencing program that’s getting better every day on the strip. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Izzy Schanz came in seventh place for the Thunderbirds in the girls’ foil competition at the JV Tournament at North Haven High School earlier this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The North Branford co-ed fencing program continues to grow while seeing success both individually and as a unified group. The Thunderbirds feature 15 athletes on their roster, including experienced fencers as well as people who just picked up the sport this season. No matter how long his athletes have been competing, Head Coach Jacob Sweet said that North Branford’s fencers know how to work together in order to achieve a common goal.
“They’re the most driven, the most cohesive. They appreciate the sport, and they love lifting each other up,” Sweet said of this year’s team. “You can only coach your players so much. It’s really on them to take it to the next level, and this group definitely has. You can tell they’re invested individually, but also in the team as a whole.”
North Branford specifically participates in a type of fencing called foil. In foil, the goal is to record a touch on the opponent’s torso. A match ends when one fencer records five touches on his or her opponent.
The Thunderbirds have taken part in two major competitions this year. North Branford competed at the Novice Tournament at Guilford High School and the JV Tournament that was held at North Haven High School.
Eli Roessler finished second for North Branford in the boys’ foil competition at the Novice Tournament. Makenna Stone took fifth place in the girls’ competition. Both athletes are in their first year with the fencing program.
At the JV Tournament, the North Branford boys saw five fencers place inside the top 50. Izzy Schanz led the way for the girls’ team by finishing in seventh place overall.
“Izzy’s not a captain, but she’s definitely a leader,” said Sweet. “She leads by example. She is really like a champion of the girls in terms of her attitude.”
When it comes to leaders for the boys’ team, Coach Sweet is quick to point out senior captain Nick Bonaldo and junior captain Ethan Sabetta.
Bonaldo turned in the boys’ top performance by finishing 15th at the JV Tournament and is one of the fencers who’s known for lifting the team up. Sabetta is among the more experienced athletes on the squad, having fenced for eight years prior to joining North Branford.
“Ethan’s skill has given the players something to strive for,” Sweet said. “There’s always an attitude around the team in, ‘I’ve got to beat Ethan.’ He’s very knowledgeable and very skilled.”
Coach Sweet believes that every athlete in the program has played a role in the T-Birds’ progress. With a roster full of juniors, many of the fencers have now been competing together throughout the past three years.
Sweet has been coaching with the fencing program for the past four seasons. He also coached Ultimate Frisbee and volleyball at North Branford prior to becoming the fencing coach.
“I was lucky to inherit a program that already had an established culture and infrastructure. I didn’t have to build this program,” said Sweet. “When I inherited the team, it was really just an opportunity to help these kids grow. The kids just wanted someone to support them. It’s one of the reasons I started coaching.”
Coach Sweet is always looking for new people to sign up. He says that North Branford promotes a family atmosphere on the fencing strip.
“Many people joined because they had a couple friends who were a year or two older on the team. They stay because they learn to love the sport,” Sweet said. “There’s structure to allow athletes to succeed at every level. When you have everyone fencing at the same time and cheering on one another, it helps to build that cohesion.”
North Branford’s athletes will often go to the middle school to try and recruit new fencers by letting them know what the sport has to offer. When he looks to add new people, Sweet makes sure they understand what North Branford fencing is all about.
“I want my North Branford fencers to be true to themselves, to keep the same positive attitude they have at practice, and put that on display while they compete at a high level,” Sweet said. “Every day, we work on fencing, but every day, we also work on how to deal with setbacks and how to deal with success. The inner drive is something I love seeing the kids build on. I hope that when other people think of North Branford fencing, they think of a team that can compete, but at the same time respects the sport.”
North Branford will be competing at the State Championships on Saturday, Feb. 29. Coach Sweet said that he’s eager to see all the hard work his athletes have done throughout the season pay off at the state meet.
“It really is a do-or-die situation, especially for those seniors who are competing for the last time,” said Sweet. “It’s about kicking it up a notch, making sure we are focused, making sure that we’re driven, and taking that support we have for each other and that love we have for the sport and making sure it’s all in sync.”
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