Guilford Crosses Swords with Familiar Foe in North Haven

The list of great sports rivalries is well known-Yankees and Red Sox, Lakers and Celtics, Ohio State and Micigan-but locally, few high school rivalries match that of Guilford and North Haven fencing. Two of the longest-running fencing programs in the state, the Indians renewed their rivalry last week as both sides ready themselves for the state tournament.

The Indians of Guilford traveled to North Haven on Feb. 16 for some co-ed fencing competition on the latter squad's Senior Night. Guilford got the upper hand on its long-standing rival by winning three of the four disciplines as both squads appear primed for big-time postseason results.

"I actually graduated the same year as the coaches from North Haven," said Guilford Coach Kyle Mezzi. "But the rivalry goes back, even far beyond us, and knowing you have a coach on the other side you actually competed against is pretty cool. It really puts things in perspective for you and gets you going."

The Guilford girls won both of its matches, winning the épée bout 5-4 with a 39-39 tie in total points, plus the foil bout 6-3 with a 34-25 edge in points. The boys were also impressive, winning the foil bout 6-3 (31-28), but losing the épée match 5-4 (30-37).

"I'm proud of how we did; I think everyone was really focused and stayed focused throughout the match," said Guilford girls' foil captain Gioia Pappalardo. "That is really important because in fencing, if you get too distracted, things can change."

The most exciting bout of the match came in the boys' épée finale. With the teams tied at 4-4, Guilford senior captain David Slattery was pitted against North Haven senior captain Paul Masi. Slattery, the defending state epee champion, had won both of his previous two épée bouts on the night, but was bested by Masi 5-2 to seal the win for North Haven.

"I knew the last one against Masi was going to be tough, but I won the first two," Slattery said. "Now I know what I need to work on for states."

Bronwyn Reeve sealed the girls' épée win with her 5-3 triumph over North Haven's Ashley Wong to go 3-0 on the day. Senior epee captain Makenzie Gennette was 1-1 and Belinda Sam was 1-2 for Guilford, earning a close 5-4 win.

"I thought I did pretty well tonight; North Haven is always a challenge and they have been our biggest rival since I was a freshman," Gennette said. "Being captain for this team is wonderful. I love all the kids on the team and they are really good kids."

In the girls' foil match, it was Pappalardo who clinched the win for the Indians, beating North Haven's Regan Fitzgerald 5-3 and going 3-0 on the day. Athena Yang went 2-0 for Guilford and Amanda Simon was 1-1 to lead the foil team to a 6-3 victory.

"I think we have worked very hard this season and it is certainly showing in different areas," said Mezzi.

The boys' foil team cruised to a 6-3 win with senior captain Yuning Zhang (1-1) sealing the victory with a 5-3 victory over David King.

"My first bout I was a little off, but in the second bout I got straightened out with a lot more transitions and a lot more movement," Zhang said.

The boys had the foil match wrapped up after the first six matches as Ben Baldwin and Sam Hermes each won two bouts, allowing Guilford to bring in some of its up-and-coming fencers to finish off the match.

The only event Guilford didn't win was the boys' épée match. Tied at 3-3, Guilford's Jake Brocksieper earned a 5-2 win over junior Tyler Fung to give his team a 4-3 edge, but North Haven gutted out the final two bouts to steal the win from Guilford as Greg Bicknell beat Niall Kneerim 5-2, setting up Slattery's loss to Masi. Slattery went 2-1 in the épée, while Brocksieper and Kneerim went 1-2.

"Playing North Haven really lets you see where you stand and is a good benchmark for later on in states," said Slattery. "It is really a benchmark for how you are doing and to know well what you need to work on."

Guilford has high hopes for the postseason and a solid performance like the one it produced against North Haven only furthers those expectations. Guilford first enters the Individual State Tournament on Saturday, March 3 by sending four fencers from each discipline, both male and female. The results of that tourney then establish the seeds for the Team State Tournament on Saturday, March 10,

"I think with the type of experience our kids have it sets us up well for that situation," Mezzi said. "I think we will do quite well in both situations, but you have to prepare for two very different scenarios."

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