Morgan Fencing To Host Annual Invitational and Diaper Drive
For Morgan fencing Head Coach Jim Barnett, simply fencing and excelling on the strip is not enough to be a Husky. He believes the athletes should learn to appreciate where they came from, as well.
“It’s important for me to make sure they know where they came from and about all the people in their community,” said Barnett.
This season, Morgan will host an annual invitational round robin style tournament to raise funds for a local charitable organization. On Saturday, Jan. 7 at 9 a.m., Guilford, North Haven, Hand, and Simsbury will share the strip with the Huskies as they raise money for the Bare Necessities Diaper Bank. Opening the season with a fundraiser has become tradition for the Clinton school.
Barnett said last season, spectators donated $3,000 worth of diapers and wipes for families in need for the Shoreline-based diaper bank. The invitational is free-of-charge, attendees are only asked to bring a donation.
“All we ask is that they drop off some diapers and wipes for us,” Barnett said.
The coach said community involvement is an integral piece of being part of the Morgan fencing program. In previous seasons, his team has volunteered their time for various organizations.
“They’ve done food drives for the Shoreline Food Pantry, car washes for Bare Necessities, there was the Clinton Road Race that raised money, and my team worked the race handing out water to runners and picking up trash,” the coach said.
Although lending a helping hand for the Shoreline community is imperative to thriving as a member of the Huskies’ fencing team, Barnett, who is the only coach the program has ever known, said developing into strong fencers is also necessary. He said a strong performance will be needed on Jan. 7, as Morgan squares off against some of the state’s best programs.
“Guilford is a perennial state champion, North Haven has also been really good,” Barnett said. “The teams we invited are some of the top teams in the state. I like to challenge my team.”
Barnett said his squad boasts senior Oliver Baker, the defending champion in boys’ épée, and Benjamin Auletta, who took second place in the state in boys’ sabre, and was first team All-State alongside Baker. Barnett added that junior Samantha Way will be fencing in girls’ sabre after claiming fourth place in the state last year and also earning first team All-State honors. In girls’ foil, the coach said junior Sara Morrissey is one to watch from his talented group.
According to the coach, Guilford brings in Catherine Zhou, a sophomore who was last year’s state champion in girls’ foil. He said junior Jackson Howard in boys épée, senior Ryan Lynch in boys’ foil, and senior Shivai Kumar in boys’ sabre are all tough competitors. For North Haven, Barnett said senior Joline Nguyen in girls’ foil and Jess Hansard in boys épée are fencers to watch on the young squad. He added that senior Barrera Federico of Hand will be tough to stop in foil.
“I expect (all the teams participating in the invitational) to qualify most of their squads (for the state tournament),” Barnett said. “These teams are usually the perennial powerhouses.”
Despite the competition, the Huskies are strong as well, opening their season with the invitational after coming off a stellar 2022 campaign.
“I had two state individual champions out of six possible state champions,” Barnett said. “My boys’ sabre squad took third in the state open championships and four of my squads came in the top four in the state.”
Barnett said he’s got a close-knit group that learns quickly and is very competitive. He said oftentimes, when students join the team, they lack experience, making the coachability of each fencer crucial to individual or team success. He said his approach to coaching his teams has been to find creative ways to teach the fundamentals of fencing.
“We combine a lot of team building stuff and games,” Barnett said. “We’ll do tic-tac-toe, but we’ll have them do advance and retreats the length of the gym to do tic-tac-toe. We’ll set up Jengas and do the same thing, they have to do a Jenga puzzle and we combine that with footwork in teams. I try to create a fun atmosphere, sprinkle in some things that are fun and team-building, but they’re also learning the skills; the skills they need to learn to play these games and become the solid team they are, and to win.”
According to Barnett, one of the most important skills for a fencer to possess is good footwork. He said it can take some time to learn, and even when a fencer has solid footwork, there can still be more to learn. “I’ve been fencing since 1976, I probably still do things wrong that I need to fix,” the coach said, jokingly.
For new fencers, and even experienced ones, he said footwork remains the foundation of the group’s training sessions. He said good footwork can lead to good attacks and victories.
“We spend a lot of time doing footwork, almost everyday we do footwork,” Barnett said. “We try to get a blade when we feel comfortable that they can forget about what’s happening below the waist. You have to separate your body in two halves: below the waist and above the waist. What tends to happen is people who are rushed fast into holding a blade, their footwork goes really bad. That’s the hard part.”
Balancing what’s happening below and above the waist is necessary to win, and balancing what’s taking place on the strip and in the classroom is needed, too. An added benefit to combining fencing and charitable work for the community, is it prepares students for their post-secondary goals, according to the coach.
“By the time they get to their senior year, they should have eight community service activities on their resume,” Barnett said. “We’re helping them build their resume and learn about what needs to be done for people that need help.”
Barnett said his goal is to keep fencers on track, requiring them to write resumes in their freshman year. He said they have to update their resumes each year, providing him with the updated version on Jan. 1. He said, much like honing in on their skills on the strip, or helping out in their community, it’s all part of being a Husky and positions them for future success.
“When they start filling out applications for jobs or National Honor Society, they’ll need recommendations for college, they have that all done and it’s all set,” Barnett said.
The Morgan co-ed fencing roster is comprised of seniors Nicholas Abbott (foil), Thomas Martin (foil), Kirsten Amendola (foil), Gianna Strunjo (foil) Magdalena Lagos (foil), Oliver Baker (épée), Brayden Esler (épée), Nicholas Bausch (épée), Cory Riojas (épée), Muntara Singh (épée), Melissa Mscheurer (epee), Addison Auletta (sabre), Ben Auletta (sabre), Noah Borkowski (sabre), and Shannon O’Brien (sabre). The junior class consists of Ryder Watson (foil), Sara Morrissey (foil), Gavin Gersz (épée), Alessa Strunjo (épée), Kayleigh West (épée), Terry Pollard (sabre), and Samantha Way (sabre). The team also has sophomores Henry Tessman (foil), Drew Auletta (foil), Meredith O’Brien (foil), Patrick O’Donnell (épée) Joey O’Brien (épée), Francesca Limauro (épée), Nicole Zhou (épée), Demani Howard (sabre), Aden Gadun (sabre), Riley Brauchler (sabre), and freshmen Austin Borkowski (foil), Ava Nettleton (foil), Charlotte Racho (foil), Anthony Strunjo (epee), Eli Barden (sabre), and Lena Flaherty (sabre).