(Fairfield, CT) - The Pioneer men return to competition after posting their best season ever last year. In 2011, the SHU men finished 13th at the NCAA Championships and had their first two All Americans (Marty Williams in saber and Justin Dion in epee). They won their second consecutive Northeast Fencing Conference Championship with another perfect 10-0 conference record. The team boasted three first team All-League selections (Stuart Holmes in Foil, Justin Dion in Epee and Marty Williams in saber). The foil squad also won their second consecutive Silvio Vitale Cup as the best weapon squad at the New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference Tournament.
With seven starters returning from last year and a very strong class of freshmen and transfers, the Pioneers look to be significantly improved this season. "I am very excited about the talent that our eleven new additions bring to the team," comments head coach Dr. Thomas Vrabel. "Despite returning seven starters, we will start four to five new athletes. We are strong across the lineup and have significantly improved all three weapons."
The saber squad returns second team All-American senior Marty Williams and the rest of last season's starters, including junior Ryan O'Halloran and sophomores Sean Vilar and Peter Freiss. The weapon is significantly strengthened with the addition of two-time National Champion freshman Tommy Gerrity (Div III Champion in 2009 and Div II Champion in 2010). "Tommy has had a great pre season and has really improved his balance and footwork," says Dr. Vrabel. "Gerrity is very quick and left-handed. I am very impressed with how Tommy has been able to tighten up his actions and improve his transition speed this fall."
Gerrity has moved in to the B strip starting slot behind Williams. Vilar and Freiss look to rotate in the C slot. Coach Vrabel sees WiIliams making another run this season at the NCAA individual saber championship this season. "Marty work out regimen this summer made him much stronger without loosing any of his explosiveness," says Vrabel. "He has the ability to win any bout that he is in this season. It would be great to see him finish his Pioneer career as a first team All American."
Junior team captain Stuart Holmes will lead a foil squad that will be improved this year. Holmes has had a very productive off season, renewing his A USFA rating four times since April. "Stuart has become one of the most consistent performers in NCAA Men's Foil," comments Dr. Vrabel. "I look for him to surprise and frustrate many opponents this season. He has a great shot at reaching the NCAA Championships in San Antonio come March." Holmes and last year's returning B strip starter junior Victor Nieto are being joined by five talented freshmen. This group is led by Jonathan Jacovino, who is A rated in both foil and epee. Also earning a starting berth from his performance during the preseason is Andrew Holmes, Stuart's brother. "I look for each of these four foilists to make a major impact for us this year." said Vrabel. "Both Holmes brothers and Nieto are left-handed, which is an asset. Stuart Holmes is very technically sound and mentally tough. Jacovino is long and fast and has an incredible hands. Andrew Holmes has an explosive game and Nieto is probably the best natural athlete on the team. I see the foil team making a big jump up in performance from the strong season they had last year."
Not to be overlooked, the epee squad has also had several important new additions. The squad's dominant force remains Senior All-American Justin Dion. Justin has had a great off season and has renewed his USFA A rating three times since May, including a fifth place finish at the 2011 Div 1A National Championship. Justin is joined by returning starter junior Jeremiah German. In addition to Dion and German, junior transfer Michael Fenech and freshmen sensation Khristopher White will also be vying for starting spots. Fenech, who is an established A rated epeeist, joins the Pioneers from Arizona State. White, who recently earned his B rating, joins SHU from a successful high school career at St. Benedicts in Newark, NJ and the Peter Westbrook Foundation.
"This squad has had a fantastic preseason," comments Dr. Vrabel. "They have really benefitted from having each other to work against and they have also made great strides in conditioning and point control. Dion and German have both improved their stamina. Justin has made his transition game more effective and German (who is 6'7") really understands now how to use his reach advantage. Fenech has become very explosive and now has unbelievable point control and White (6'1", 210 lbs) has developed a formidable power game. I believe that each of these fencers could start on any team in the country. I really like our chances to send two epeeists to the NCAA Championship Weekend this year."
Other fencers on the squad include sophomore Brendan Stokes and freshmen Cooper Johnson, Eric Von Fischer, and Jordan Pagano in foil, sophomore Marlon Bridgman and freshmen Kevin Almerini and Neil Doppler in epee, and seniors CJ Fleck, Dave Choy, and freshman Chris DiPietro in saber. "Our team is not only built for this season but has the pieces in place to be very competitive with this roster for the next few years," said Vrabel. "The present and future of Pioneer Fencing is very bright".
The team will showcase its talent at the Pioneer Fencing Red/White Scrimmage on Sunday, October 23rd at the Pitt Athletic Center at 4 PM. The competitive season begins at the Big One collegiate tournament at Smith College on November 5th.