Featured Macs Athletes: The Fencing Team 

By: Kiki Arochas Ruchama Benhamou  |  November 20, 2023

By Kiki Arochas, Staff Writer and Ruchama Benhamou, Managing Editor 

What comes to mind first when hearing the phrase “YU Sports?” If this was a Family Feud question, it’s pretty likely that the top answer would be ‘basketball.’ And why wouldn’t it? The game grabs everybody’s attention. The legendary Ryan Turell making it to the pre-NBA, and the team’s extraordinary titles gaining more popularity than most D1 teams in the district. But what about YU’s other teams? YU actually has 7 other men’s teams and 6 other women’s, besides basketball?  For this edition, we’ll be focusing on the YU Fencing Team: who they are, what they do, and what fencing means to them. 

Beginning at 8:30 P.M., the fencing team opens practice with stretches and running laps. “There are a lot of muscles in fencing that people don’t generally use, like the back and hip muscles, so the runs help make sure that, when we use those muscles, we aren’t pulling anything,” explains fencer Shneur Levy (YC ‘25). After finishing these exercises, the team practices distancing with what Noam Ben Simon (YC ‘26) calls the “Glove Game.” As they aren’t wearing equipment yet, each player either uses foam swords, or just gloves to play. Similar to the game “Ninja” (if you know you know), the goal is for one of the two players to try and touch the other. The catch is that the person on offense can only take one small step, followed by an attack, called a lunge, while the person on defense can move as much as they want to avoid the attack. After one person steps, the other takes a turn, and so on. “It helps put you in the mindset of fencing,” explains Noam, “since you have to be strategic with where you step. If you go out of bounds you lose a point, just like in real fencing, so you need to back far enough away to keep out of range of their attack, but also close enough that you can counterattack. It’s the perfect way to train spacing for a bout.” When asked how long this part of training usually takes, Noam responded that it consumes 30-45 minutes of a total 2 hour practice. The last half hour is dedicated to bouts, the actual duels between fencers. The key is to keep these practice bouts as close to the real thing as possible. Therefore, they wear full gear, have boundaries, and have a third party act as a referee. Noam put particular focus on the benefits of being that referee. “You can’t see yourself fence. Reffing helps you see the inner workings of the game in a totally unbiased way, seeing how people attack, how they defend. Since you have no stake in the match, you’re able to see things as they literally are.” The small details that can determine a match go unnoticed when you’re wielding your weapon. As a referee, these insights are revealed to you, allowing you to grow as a fencer as a result. 

It all comes down to the ultimate part of fencing; the matches and tournaments. The fencing team plays many different teams around the tristate area, representing the YU Macs. As Mikaela Amos (SCW ‘26) remarked, “even though I try my best, there are times when I feel disappointed with myself, which I know isn’t good because after all, I’m competing against more experienced fencers who have been playing since they were kids and I’m just having fun while giving it my all.” Furthermore, Noam recounts, “leading up to a match, nerves are high. I take a second and breathe. My mind is blank, except what I’m going to do on the call. What reactions I will have, and that keeps me through the match.” Through his thought processes, we can see the immense overflow of emotion. Stress, pressure, tense, but also strength and triumph. Fencing requires constant persistence and resilience to build up skill and agility to succeed.  

Beren team captain, Racheli Jian (SCW ‘25), said, “during a match, I’m thinking a lot about my mistakes, like why did I not get this point, and what am I doing wrong? Then after a match, I would say I feel a combination of the two. I’m thinking about what I did right and what I did wrong, and what can I do next time to improve?” Similarly, Noam explains, “after a tough loss or successful win, I still ask the ref what could be improved. I believe it’s always important to acknowledge how I can be better, even if I win the match.” It is clear that other YU teams and the overall YU community, can learn the powerful lesson of continual devotion to improving oneself in all aspects of life. Noam and Racheli embody what every team captain should — the constant devotion to become the best version of themselves.  

Both Beren and Wilf team members explain the difficulties of work-life balance as a student athlete. Racheli said, “being a student-athlete is honestly really difficult. You have to find time in between classes to work on stuff or you end up staying late or wake up early. It is difficult, but honestly, if you enjoy the sport, it’s worth it.” Mikaela echoed the sentiment, “being a part of a YU athletics team is with no doubt, a commitment. With my classes finishing at about 3-5 pm every day, and then fencing practice at 7:30, being a successful student athlete requires good time management skills that I’m still working on perfecting!” Overall, Mikaela explains that her “main takeaway from being on the team would be the amazing teamwork. It sounds cheesy, but teamwork in a sport you love is much more complex and important when compared to elementary school level teamwork. All the cheering and support from my fellow teammates gives me so much confidence and joy, it’s one of my favorite parts of this sport!”