(Fairfield, CT) - The Pioneer men return to competition after posting their best season ever last year. In 2012 the SHU men finished 14th at the NCAA Championships and combined with the women's team to finish 16th overall at the NCAA. The Pioneers were represented at the NCAA Championships by team captain Stuart Holmes in foil and Marty Williams in saber. SHU once again went 10-0 in Northeast Fencing Conference competition and won its third consecutive undefeated championship. The team boasted four first team All-League selections (Stuart Holmes in foil, Justin Dion, Michael Fenech in epee, and Marty Williams in saber). The Foil and Epee squads were both bronze medalists at the National Collegiate Squad Championships. The Foil squad also won its third consecutive Silvio Vitale Cup as the best weapon squad at the New England Intercollegiate Fencing Conference Tournament and paced the Pioneers to both the men's and the combined New England Intercollegiate Fencing Championships.
With seven starters returning from last year and a strong class of freshmen and transfers, the Pioneers look to once again be in contention for the NFC title and a top ten national ranking. "I am very excited about the talent that our seven new additions bring to the team," comments head coach Dr. Thomas Vrabel. "We should see a large amount of improvement from our returning fencers as they now have more experience under their belts."
The epee squad will continue to be a strength of the team this season. The graduation of All-American and four-time First-Team All-Northeast Fencing Conference selection Justin Dion will allow the move of the very talented Jonathan Jacovino (A rating in both epee and foil) over from foil.
"Jonathan did a fantastic job in foil last season (Second Team All NFC), but the loss of Dion allows Jocavino to fence the weapon where I believe that he has the most potential in the college game," said Dr. Vrabel. "I fully expect Jonathan to be at least as strong as Justin has been for us in epee – and that is saying a lot! We are very deep in epee and I expect to see a very spirited competition for the starting berths. It all will depend on who is the most focused and consistent during the pre-season. We have seven fencers on this squad who would have started for us two seasons ago, that is how strong this group is. It is a very nice place to be."
Joining Jacovino will be 2012 starters Mike Fenech (first team all NFC, New England Championship silver medailist) and three-year starter Jeremiah German. Also challenging for strip time are the sophomore quartet of B rated Khris White and Devon Clark (transfer from Morgan State) and C rated Kevin Almerini and Neil Doppler. In addition the team will add C rated freshman Max Menaker (Mountainside NJ, Governor Livingston HS) and Josh Cantos (East Williston NY, The Wheatley School). "The talent level on our epee squad is so impressive," said Coach Vrabel.
"Mike Fenech had a great first season on the team but I know that he will not be satisfied until he makes it to the NCAA Championship. Both he and Jeremiah German have been working very hard this summer to improve their stamina and tactics. I expect the both of them to make significant jumps in performance this year. Prior to last season the group consisting of Almerini, White, Clark and Doppler would have been the best overall epee squad that SHU has fielded, that is just how good they are. Khris White and Devon Clark are amazing athletes and had great off seasons in USFA competition. They have the potential to be dominant in collegiate fencing. Kevin Almerini is also quite talented and is working very hard this summer to tailor his game to his physical strengths, and Neil Doppler is a 6'3" lefty that has great technique. After the competition within the squad to make the starting lineup, actual match competition should be a breeze for the epee squad. This looks to be a very exciting year for SHU epee"
Senior team captain Stuart Holmes will lead a foil squad that will continue to be one of the best squads in college fencing. They will be led by the brother duo of Stuart and Andrew Holmes. "Stuart had an amazing season last year (NCAA Championship qualifier, first team all NFC, New England Foil Champion) and he became a dominant force in Northeastern foil fencing," comments Dr. Vrabel. "He has been intensively working to improve his footwork and lunge strength this summer and I see Stuart being significantly improved again. Andrew Holmes (New England Foil silver medalist, CF 360 national rookie of the week last season) has also really improved and is much more efficient and precise with his game. The Holmes brothers will remain one of the best 1-2 punches in collegiate foil this year."
With the shifting of Jonathan Jacovino to the epee squad, the team will look to one of the three talented incoming freshmen to compete for the third starting spot. This group is led by Alex Harwood (Brentwood NY, Brentwood HS) and Joseph Faicco (Commack NY, Commack HS). Both are B rated foilists who are on the USFA Junior points list. They will be joined by Dyllon Frantin, (Melville NY, Half Hollow Hills HS) who is another quick and athletic foilist.
"Harwood and Faicco are great talents who should be as important to the foil squad this season as Andrew Holmes and John Jacovino were as freshmen last year, said Coach Vrabel". "Harwood has a very powerful game and brings another talented lefty to the squad. Faicco is a master technician who should improve in both strength and strip control as the season progresses. Frantin is very fast will be right with the other freshmen foilists once he masters a bit more patience. The addition of this threesome has allowed us to move Jon Jacovino over to Epee where I look for him to be even more successful than he was in foil last season."
Also competing for one of the starting spots in foil will be Senior Victor Nieto, Junior Brendan Stokes and Sophomores Cooper Johnson and Eric Von Fischer. "We are very fortunate to have such an overall talented foil squad this year," comments Coach Vrabel. "We have at least eight foilists that can start for over half of the teams in collegiate fencing. This not only is great for in squad competition but it gives us a lot of flexibility in the event of injuries. I look for the foil squad to once again be a major reason for our success."
The largest amount of transition will be seen in the saber squad. Saber loses four fencers from last year, including All-American Marty Williams and squad captain CJ Fleck. Preseason leaders for the starting spots are new squad captain Tom Gerrity, junior Sean Vilar and senior Ryan O'Halloran. Gerrity and Vilar started for most of last season and O'Halloran was a starter his freshmen and sophonmore years.
"I am confident that Tommy, Sean and Ryan will do a great job for us this season", comments Dr. Vrabel. "Last year the B and C strips were divided among five fencers. We also had injuries plague saber last season which forced us to juggle lineups. I believe that we will surprise many teams with our saber squad this year. Gerrity will now have a year of college competition under his belt and I look for Tom to be a very effective A strip performer for us. Vilar battled confidence issues last season but his recent results in USFA competition have been strong. Sean is now ready to dictate tempo and actions on the strip. O'Halloran has always been an exceptional athlete and being 6'1" and left handed is a plus for him. I look for Ryan to be very aggressive this year and take charge in the C strip slot. My biggest concern is injuries since we do not have the luxury of depth like we did last season."
This trio will be ably supported by sophomore Chris DiPietro and incoming freshman Kevin Stimmel (West Windsor NJ, Notre Dame HS) and George Dzialo (Pawtucket RI, Bishop Feehan HS). "Di Pietro fenced well last season and he will get a larger opportunity to contribute this year," says Coach Vrabel. "Stimmel and Dzialo are both good athletes and should adapt readily to college fencing. While our saber squad may not be quite the equal of our foil and epee squads, it is by no means average, and I expect the saber squad to be a major contributor to our success this season. Despite losing Dion and Williams, this could be the best team that we have fielded at SHU. We can't wait for practice to start!"
The team will showcase its talent at the Pioneer Fencing Red/White Scrimmage on Sunday, October 28th at the Pitt Athletic Center at 4 PM. The competitive season begins at the Big One Collegiate Individual tournament at Smith College on Saturday, November 3rd . The Pioneers will also host the SHU Invitational on Sunday, November 11th, where the teams will be in competition against squads from eight northeastern and mid-atlantic universities.