Photo by Andrew Mencias

The University of the Philippines (UP) Fencing Team ended the UAAP Season 82 Fencing Tournament with three bronze medals, and an overflow of relief and surprise for a team still finding its footing, yesterday at Paco Arena. 

The expected scene for a team dealing with a loss is that of athletes huddled, flushing out tears of anger, sadness, humiliation, and disappointment. But there was none of that for the UP Women’s Sabre Team, after the final match of the day where they lost, 10-45, to the dominant University of the East (UE). 

Instead, the sight following the loss was a calm, collected quartet of Alyssa Dueñas, Joj Gonzales, Reb Reyno, and Poala Andres, grateful to pick up the bronze. Nowhere was the predictable outcome of tears a telling sight from a UP Fencing Team that was anything but predictable.

“Unexpected, honestly. Kasi parang our first prediction ng mga magiging sa Finals, nag-iba talaga siya,” said Andres who, along with the rest of the Women’s Sabre Team, expected the Men’s Team to be UP’s best bet for success this year. 

“Sobrang turning point siya for the Women’s Team,” Gonzales said. “It shows kaya naman pala bumawi yung Women’s Team.”

Their 45-41 win against De La Salle University (DLSU) that sealed their podium finish was especially sweet. Andres noted how the win felt like vindication, as it came at the expense of DLSU, which knocked them out  from the tournament in Season 81.

But amid all the joy of winning, the biggest victory for the Women’s Sabre Team was seeing all the support they received from everyone who watched the four-day tournament. 

“Honestly, on my part, I really didn’t expect how my game went,” said Dueñas, “there were so many people screaming my name. There were so much people cheering for me. It was unexpected.”

The foursome hope that their wins set the tone for an even brighter future and inspire more young girls to try out for the Fencing Team. They said that regardless of the level of training,  anyone can come into the sport and learn it. 

Captain’s Chair

The victory of the Women’s Sabre Team wasn’t the only victory of the UP Women’s Fencing Team. Also winning bronze were the Women’s Foil Team and the Women’s Epee Team, something that Women’s Captain Austine Cui couldn’t be more proud of.

“I feel accomplished with the women’s team performance. This year, we have a lot of fresh faces joining the UAAP tournament,” Cui said. “This proves a lot on where we can be in the coming seasons.”

Despite the rebuild and influx of rookies, Cui believes that the success of the Maroon Fencers this season showed that the team is gaining more experience and awareness. 

This, she believes, was also true for her, as Cui herself was the x-factor that secured the Women’s Epee Team’s bronze. Cui scored a comeback victory with the final eight points against the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU).

On the victory, Cui said “the only thing that was running on my mind was scoring one point at a time and putting all the fear away. This helped me focus in our bout as Coach Allan guides me all throughout.”

Like the Women’s Sabre Team, Cui believes that the wins of the Women’s Teams can further inspire people to support and even join the Fencing Team that is slowly proving its capability against the best in the country.

“At the pace of our progress, the future of the UP Fencing Team is bright, everyone has something to prove for themselves and collectively as a team. This is because I can see that anyone can really go head to head against our national players with the proper mindset and preparation,” she said.

Larger Plans

Amid UP’s success, Coach Allan Dator  believes the team should still focus on its goal– rebuilding a better program.

“We’re rebuilding,” admitted Dator, whose strategy over the year was to develop the rookies and younger players to prepare for future seasons. “This gives them exposure, and strengthens their core in competitions.”

More than half of the Maroon Fencers are rookies. And under the assumption that they all return for next season, the team only has less than a year to prepare as Fencing will likely be moved back to being a first semester sport once Season 83 rolls around.

Dator, however, isn’t worried about this.  

“The rookies will have more experience under their belt to handle the competition. Kasi personally, nakita ko nabigla talaga. So minsan nalilito kasi pag rookie ka lang, nao-overwhelm ka sa atmosphere. Pero hopefully next year, magiging stable sila,” he said.

The NowhereToGoButUP Foundation, Dator says, has been a massive help. According to him, it’s the Foundation’s effort that has allowed the Fencing Team to buy competition-level equipment–lighter blades with better flexibility and point control, and for the first time, the team’s very own fencing scoreboard.

It’s these things that Dator believes contributed greatly to the wins of the Women’s Team, and even the losses of the Men’s Team that often ended by single-digit deficits. To him, all the team needs to further the rebuilding is just a little push.

“With the right amount of support and preparation, aangat kami. Sigurado ako diyan,” Dator said. “Ngayon pa lang, rookies and sophomores lang, by one or two points lang natatalo. So with the right amount of exposure, mananalo ulit kami.”

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