PASADENA, Calif. (Jan. 11, 2018) – Coming off a season that featured seven total scholar-athletes qualifying for the NCAA West Regionals, Caltech men's and women's fencing is as young as ever and as good as ever thanks to a built-in culture that encourages improvement on and off the strip and a conscious effort to learn how to win.
Head Coach Carla Corbit enters her 10th year with Caltech, seventh as the head coach of the men's and women's fencing teams. With nearly 25 years of international experience on her resume, she has led at least one fencer to the NCAA West Regional Competition in each of her seven years in charge. This year, she will have the opportunity to work with eight freshmen, four on both teams in addition to some key returners, including men's seniors and Ethan Lo and Spencer Strumwasser. The women's team, meanwhile will return its only underclassmen regional qualifier sophomore Mei-Ling Laures (Chicago, Ill. / British International School of Chicago) and captain Betty Wang (Cerritos, Calif. / Cerritos), who came one touch away from stamping her ticket to regionals as well.
"This is the youngest team I've ever had," Corbit said. "I'm not quite sure what to expect from them because we are fencing Division I programs. Most of them just walked onto the team and have little fencing experience, however I'm still planning on having some wins with them. "They have been training very hard and we started our season early to recruit and train them as much as possible."
Young as they may be, this year's men's and women's fencing teams have already begun to make some noise at some of the smaller, more individualized fencing tournaments. The Beavers' most notable day came at Bladerunner in La Jolla, Calif. back on Nov. 3 and 4. Lo delivered with a top-32 showing against a field consisting entirely of nationally-ranked fencers while freshman newcomer Zimo Zhu led the field as the tournament's No.1-overall seed and went on to secure a third-place finish. Zhu joins Caltech as an A-ranked fencer who has competed in the junior olympics, U.S. Nationals and the North American Fencing Cup. Needless to say, Corbit likes what she has in Zhu and the rest of her young roster.
"[Zhu] came against one of the strong junior American team members but he did a really good job and we were actively looking at him in the recruiting process," Corbit said. He turned out to be a really good fit for the team and will be a strong leader for us after our seniors graduate."
Incoming women, such as freshmen Isabella Camplisson, Laura Hu, Rachel Lin and Erika Yu will look to rise to the occasion and provide the women some of the depth at weapons outside of epee and give the team some of strength in numbers that the men's side has seen in recent years. As is the case in most other sports, there are benefits to the Beavers fielding a larger team. It will allow Corbit and her staff to play matchups against some of the Division I teams they come across this season, most of which will have that luxury. Caltech does own a handful of victories over Division I programs, and most recently took down the University of North Carolina one year ago while coming just one touch away from tagging the University of Notre Dame with the same fate.
Corbit finds value in fencing these teams and the respect her group has garnered over the years have ultimately aided the fencing program in the recruiting process.
"I like fencing the top teams," Corbit said. "I feel enthusiastic about it and it makes me happy. It also gives our fencers a strength-factor mentally to beat some of these strong teams. Some of these fencers have been fencing since they were eight years old and we are starting to become more competitive against them. I think once one fencer starts to win, then the other people start to win and it catches fire."
"Our fencers represent the sport extremely well."
If Caltech can continue to develop fencers lacking in experience like it has in recent years, big things could be in store, with the possibility of more than eight fencers qualifying for nationals. Corbit attributes the development-friendly environment to the team culture that has been fostered by fencers of the present and past.
"Our team culture is amazing," Corbit said. "It is building and taking in people who don't fence but want to learn how and bringing them up do they, too can qualify for the NCAA Regional Championships. The camaraderie for the fencers and pull between each other to succeed and win I think is wonderful. One of my assistants, Margo Miller always says you have to start strong and finish strong. That way, they never give up and never get disheartened.
"They want to work hard and know how because they already know how to do it academically. It's just about teaching them to do something else. I want them to feel successful and feel good about themselves."
Corbit and the Beavers will open NCAA competition on Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Stanford University-hosted Western Invitational.