A Triumphant 2023 Season for MH Fencers

Carolyn He, Staff Writer

A silence descends upon the room. There is a collective withholding of breath; for each absent exhale grows an elusive expectation. All eyes in the room are fixated upon the scoring machine — a flat, black apparatus with two gray squares that will ultimately denote the winner of the bout. Even as the timer ticks down to 30 seconds, then 10, then 5, the face of the scoring machine stays passive. The trance is unbroken, save for the scuffle of rubber soles on the shining electric strip. To say that this bout is high stakes would be an understatement. 

For the Morris Hills Girls Fencing Team, this is no ordinary bout; this is the semi-final round that will determine whether or not Morris Hills advances on to State Fencing Finals. While making it to the semifinals is an achievement monumental enough on its own — being the first time in nearly 5 years that Morris Hills has accomplished such a feat — competing in States would have been the most satisfying end to an already-remarkable season. 

A Bittersweet 2023 Season

For the Morris Hills Fencing Team, the 2023 season has been one of record-breaking milestones, chaotic bus rides, and bittersweet victories. Morris Hills Fencing opened up to a strong start this season with sweeping 4-0 victories at the home quad meet in December. Although MH fencers faced top-rated fencers and a grueling day of bouts ahead of them, Morris Hills was able to wrap up strong wins across both boys’ and girls’ teams and all three disciplines. The first major meet of the season also quelled any hesitancies new Varsity fencers had about the roles they inherited following the graduation of last year’s seniors. Change is bittersweet, yet the passing always gives way to the rise of new. 

Emma Wahlers, a sophomore fencing varsity Epee, affirmed that while she was initially “intimidated when starting this fencing season,” she soon found confidence through improving her technical skills and “putting in the work.” In the end, all that persistence paid off; as Emma states, “the most gratifying thing though was seeing my own improvement.” 

This sentiment applied not only to new “starting” fencers, but also to the new coaches that were brought on in the 2023 season. One of them, MH history teacher Mr. Nugent, admitted that he knew nothing about fencing when he first became the girls’ Head Coach. Yet, by the end of the season, he could even be found donning fencing whites and preparing for a bout of his own. The most rewarding part of the position, however, was not the victories, but the community. In his words, “I may not know much about fencing, but even I can see that the community around this team is so supportive and incredible. Every practice and every meet, you all push each other to be the best fencers you can be.”

After all, despite the injuries plaguing the fencing team this season, team members have always been able to find strength in the MH fencing community. As Head Coach Lisa Campi-Sapery reiterates, “There are other programs where it’s just a bunch of individuals who fence. This one, it’s more about depth and supporting each other.”

A Record-Breaking 2023 Season

From the months of December to February, the fencing season whizzed by in a blur.. Jan. 8: Frosh-Sophs. Jan. 14: Districts. Jan. 21: Santelli’s. Jan. 22: Cetrullo’s. Strong finishes across the board. Before the Morris Hills fencers knew it, Districts had approached. Among the nine schools fencing in the NJSIAA District 2 fencing tournament, Morris Hills needed to place in the top three schools for both divisions in order to advance to State prelims. And among the many records broken in the 2023 season, Morris Hills brought home no shortage of them during Districts. 

Morris Hills finished in the top three in all three weapons and took home the overall team title. Men’s Foil stole the show with gold, as did Women’s Sabre. Women’s Epee followed up with another gold, and Men’s Sabre concluded with a satisfying silver. The outstanding performance of MH fencers not only guaranteed MH a spot in the Sweet Sixteen prelims to come but also qualified numerous talented fencers for State Individuals in March.

From there, Morris Hills became one of the 16 schools competing for the ultimate title of State Champion. The boys ultimately progressed as far as the second elimination round, whereas the girls advanced past Teaneck, then Montgomery, and finally, onto that critical semifinal round. 

While the girls ultimately lost the semi-finals on a slim margin of 15-12, they still concluded the season with an impressive 12-3 record, outcompeting nearly 40 other fencing teams in New Jersey to secure third best team overall. Meanwhile, the Morris Hills Boys Fencing Team finished out the season with a 10-5 record. This remarkable result was achieved despite an onslaught of injuries and internal changes that fencers contended with this season, making each victory more meaningful for the work it took to get there. 

Those victories also included monumental records broken, such as the best placement of fencers at State Individuals in Morris Hills history. One of those outstanding performances was that of Ugonna Egbuchulam, the Women’s Epee Captain. Out of 33 bouts fenced this season, Ugonna lost only 1, demonstrating an incredible finesse that ultimately enabled her to place third at Individual’s — the highest placement in MH’s long and fruitful fencing history. 

Ugonna’s achievement is well-deserved; since freshman year, she had always “wanted to be on the wall of athletes in the Athletic Hall of Fame.” Heading into States, Ugonna knew she would be facing “tough competition, honestly girls that I looked up to…but I’ve always been a bit of a competitive person, and that has pushed me to work hard and be the best fencer I can be”. To say she worked hard, however, would be an understatement. According to Ugonna, “Being able to place in the top three and stand next to some of the best girls in the state was just incredibly rewarding…[and it] made me feel like my hard work and mentality going in was worth it”. Aside from sheer individual skill, Ugonna also cited her teammates as being a defining force that helped her succeed, reflecting “you can’t really win without your team, and I’m going to miss having this really supportive community behind me. I’ve made some of my best friends from fencing, and I’m going to miss it all…I will miss anything — any and every thing — about this team.” 

The following MH Fencers qualified for State Individuals this season:

  • Ugonna Egbuchulam, Senior, Women’s Epee
  • Emma Wahlers, Sophomore, Women’s Epee
  • Moses Yang, Senior, Men’s Sabre
  • Kashish Jaiswal, Senior, Women’s Sabre
  • Sofia Marek, Junior, Women’s Sabre 
  • Adham Ibrahim, Senior, Men’s Foil 
  • Harry Tomasco, Junior, Men’s Foil