While fencing may not yet rival tennis, baseball, or swimming in the hearts and minds of most West Windsor-Plainsboro high school students, it might be in the future if Gale Kedoin and Birgit Roy (and about 50 students) have their way.##M:[more]##

“We’re a club hoping to become a team,” says Kedoin, the fencing coach of North and South high schools’ joint fencing club. “There is talk that we might be a (varsity) team by next year. We’re now in the process of putting together our year-end club report to show the board how we did.”

In its first year of existence, the fencing club is, by all measures, very successful. Student interest has been high from the start. There are currently 52 students in the club and scores of interested students were turned away after the start of practice on November 30.

“There is a big fencing community in this area,” says Roy, who came up with the idea for the club and spearheaded its formation. “We have the sort of kids who would benefit from a non-traditional sport like this.” Roy’s son, Kiron, a sophomore at High School South, is on the club. He has been fencing since he was 12.

According to Roy, fencing is a popular sport among area private schools, although there are not many public schools that offer the sport. Still, she is hopeful. “New Jersey is the biggest growing sport for the sport of fencing in the entire country.”

In addition to the popularity of the club, the quality of the product has been good even though over 90 percent of the students had never fenced before last fall. In the club’s sole competitive event this season — an NJSIAA-sponsored independent tournament on February 5 — WW-P fencers did surprisingly well. “We had two students finish in third place in saber as well as a third and fourth place in epee,” says Kedoin. “Only the top two students competing in each weapon qualified to compete in the state individual fencing championship, so we were just on the outside looking in. But we feel we represented ourselves very well.”

Because the club was a pilot program, it received almost no funding from the school district. As a result each participating student had to pay a $250 membership fee to join. “This year we are a parent-funded club,” says Kedoin. “The money was used to purchase equipment, insurance, extraneous costs for the practice space (in the lounge at High School North), expenses to participate in the tournament in February, as well as the cost of providing a private bus for South students to travel to North to participate each day.” The district did pay for the club’s entrance fee to compete in the independent championship — $14 per person — and provided an advisor.

With only a “mini-season” this year, much of the club members’ attention was aimed at learning the fundamentals of the sport. The sport of fencing is made up of three weapons: foil, epee, and saber. Epee is the original dueling weapon in which the opponent’s entire body is a valid target (head, arms, legs, or anywhere), though a fencer can only hit with the point of his or her weapon. In sabers, emerging from the time of cavaliers on horseback, a fencer swashes at the opponent with either the side of the blade or the point and can only hit from the head up. Foil is more of a precise weapon in which a legal target is limited to the front or back torso area and must be hit with the point.

Kedoin says that students in the club have received a thorough initiation into a sport she considers more intellectual than many traditional sports. “I spent the first two weeks of the season teaching basic footwork and conditioning,” she says. “Then I assigned a weapon to each student. I don’t try and rush them to get to the fencing. The technique of footwork is more important and I wanted to make sure I spent time working with each student.” After a student was sure of just what weapon he or she was to use, equipment was purchased.

Like tennis or swimming, fencing is a team sport as well as an individual sport. The object of a fencing bout is to score 5 touches on your opponent before he or she scores that many on you. “Even though fencing is one-on-one,” says Kedoin, “each team adds up the victories of its individual fencers in order to win the meet.” A meet is made up of 27 bouts with a round robin format in epee, foil, and saber to determine the overall winner.

A resident of Plainsboro, Kedoin was born and raised on Long Island. One of five children, her mother was a stay-at-home mom and her father worked for AT&T. A good athlete as a child, Kedoin found that she had one liability that threatened to hold her back as a high school athlete. “My coach in high school called me aside and said I was a good athlete but too short for volleyball, basketball, and track,” she says. “Why don’t you try fencing?”

Excelling as a high school fencer, Kedoin was offered a number of college athletic scholarships. She turned them all down to attend the University of Pennsylvania (which doesn’t offer athletic scholarships). After living in San Francisco for a time, Kedoin, a software trainer, and her husband moved to Plainsboro in 2002. “We moved here because we wanted our kids (who are now four and six years old) to be closer to family in the New York area,” says Kedoin.

According to Kedoin, fencing is a sport that can teach valuable life lessons. “It has taught me so much mentally and physically,” she says. “These are skills that I have been able to transfer into the workforce. It gave me a personal drive and determination and I really wanted to be a coach, eventually.”

How she became coach was something of a fluke. “There was an ad in the West Windsor-Plainsboro News that said there was a meeting for a competitive fencing team at High School South,” says Kedoin. “My husband showed it to me and I cut it out. The night of the meeting I had a huge migraine but I went anyway. I was the only one at the meeting who came without a student and Birgit Roy asked me why I was there. I told her I was just curious. During the meeting I found out that they actually needed a coach and Birgit asked me if I’d be interested. That’s how it started.”

Although she had never coached before, Kedoin is not inexperienced. “My experience as a software trainer really helped me,” she says. “I would train adults how to install software, customize it, migrate systems and I’m used to teaching.”

And although her team is inexperienced, Kedoin says she is impressed with her initial 52 members. “They are a wonderful bunch of kids,” she says. “Each one of them is trying so hard. I wish everyone could see how far they’ve come this year. They have a lot of potential. I expect them to do really well in the next couple of years.”

While Kedoin is not certain that the school district will find funds in an already tight budget to make fencing a full-fledged sport like football or volleyball, she is preparing for the possibility. She recently filed her papers to substitute teach in the district in order to be eligible to be come a legitimate coach next season. “Even if we are private funded next year and are not a team sport sponsored by the school next year, I still have contacts with other high school coaches who want to still fence us,” says Kedoin. “We are going to plan some high school meets next year.”

Winter Wrapup: Swimming

As expected, the cream of the crop for the winter sports season has been High School South swimming. The girls team finished the season with a 15-1 overall record, winning the Mercer County Tournament for the fifth straight year, and well as the NJSIAA Central “A” championship. The only blemish on their record came on February 25 with a loss to Westfield, 92-78, in the NJSIAA “A” semifinals. South’s individual girls have dominated the CVC with Gabi Feibel (200 freestyle and 100 freestyle), Milagros Simon (50 freestyle and 100 backstroke), Kate Winters (100 backstroke), and Evelyn Yuen (100 breaststroke) all posting some of the fastest individual times in the county.

South boys have been almost as impressive, finishing with 11 wins and putting the Pirates in second place in the Colonial Division behind undefeated Lawrence. Sophomore Jay Park had the CVC’s best times in the 200 freestyle, 50 freestyle, and 100 butterfly. Brian Honore was tops in the 500 freestyle. Mike Carmen was the CVC’s second best in the breaststroke.

North girls finished the season with a 6-6 overall record, second place in the Patriot Division. Although the team improved as the season progressed, the Knights were inconsistent much of the season. They could dominate some teams, as they did in a 132-38 victory over Nottingham on January 11, then follow that by losing consecutive meets to Lawrence, 110-54, and Hamilton, 111-58. Mary McGovern and Kristy Hadjucek had productive senior seasons. First year coach Tiffany Brennan is hoping to build the program into a contender that will eventually challenge South’s domination of the CVC. Rachel Riestra, Kiki Rosa, Whitney Handy, Michele Cino set school records for the Knights, all of whom will be back next year.

North boys finished 8-6 overall, second in the Patriot Division. Josh Chen was the Knights top individual swimmer, winning the 200 IM and the 100 Fly in the Knights’ loss to Princeton in the NJSIAA semifinals.

Basketball

After a slow start, the North girls basketball team won the Patriot Division crown with a 16-8 overall record. Claire Dysart, Samantha Yang, Brooke Wiener, Regina Potter, Jess Rockoff, and Lauren Lentine headed a prolific offense and stingy defense. North’s average of 47.7 points per game was fourth best in the CVC, while its 37.8 points allowed per game was third best in the conference.

North boys had a disappointing year, finishing 7-17 overall (1-11 in the CVC) and allowing over 60 points-per-game. But the Knights were strong offensively with John Byrnes and Conor Hayes averaging about 15 points per game.

South girls, finishing with a 5-17 record, had trouble playing consistently. Kelly Kasper, the Pirates best scorer, was injured for the first half of the season. Lisa Simi, Keely Farren, Kate Hubbard were South’s other top players.

For the South boys, it was a case of a lot of offense and very little defense. The Pirates finished last in the CVC in total defense (allowing almost 71 points per game), effectively negating the scoring capabilities of Matt Howell (averaging 17 points per game) and newcomer Nigel Robinson, who transferred to South from Saint Joseph’s in Metuchen (18.5 points per game). South’s 7-13 overall record put it in last place in the Colonial Division.

Wrestling

North Head Coach Bill Mealy directed his team to another successful season, finishing 9-7 overall (8-4 in the CVC) for first place in the Patriot Division. Alex Ragucci was one of the best wrestlers in the county, finishing 20-2 in the 160 pound weight class. Jeff Rotella, with an 18-5 overall record at 130 pounds, Corey Simmons-Edler (13-6) at 135 pounds, and George Goldsmith at 152 pounds (16-4) were also among the county’s best.

South wrestlers finished 9-13 (6-6 in the CVC). Misha Esipov, who finished with a season’s record of 22-4 at the 152 pound weight level, is rated as one of top in the conference. He won the Mercer County title as the number 5 seed. Joe Everingham, at 171 pounds, finished 15-9. Wil Despines (145 pounds), Andrew O’Shaughnessy (275), Adrien Schriefer (215), and Ali Jaffery (130) were among the Pirates’ top wrestlers.

In the NJSIAA post season, the Pirates’ Esipov won the District 20 tournament title at 152 pounds. For the Knights, both Simmons-Edler and Ragucci qualified for the regional tournament and on March 2, Simmons-Edler lost while Ragucci won a tough match, 15-11, and advances.

Ice Hockey

Heading into the season, the High School North hockey team was looking to reestablish itself. Two years ago, the Knights, behind the stalwart goaltending of Jimmy Merrow (now playing junior A hockey), made it into the state semifinals. But with a 5-12 overall records (4-9 in the conference) North hockey will have to look again for next season as another rebuilding year.

Ryan Worrall and Adam Natole, splitting goalie duties, have performed admirably in extreme situations, often facing 40 to 50 shots per game. Ernie Park has been the Knights top scorer, with 12 goals and 7 assists for 19 points. Steve Norman has 6 goals and 10 assists for the Knights. Erik Hansell, Steve Norman, Dan Margiotti, and Nicole Forant have also contributed some timely goals. Rob Mihalyi was North’s top defenseman.

South’s hockey program finished with a 6-6-1 conference record (7-13-2 overall) good enough for third place in the CVC’s Colonial Division. Forward Jeff Katz, with 25 goals and 19 assists, is fifth in the conference in scoring. Jon Reece (17 goals and 12 assists) and Benjie Fan (12 goals and 9 assists) were the Pirates’ other top scorers. Defenseman Justin Berger had 15 goals and 9 assists. Freshman goalie Dan Katz (brother of last season’s senior star goalie Jeff Katz) took over the bulk of the duties as the season progressed.

People in Sports

Matt Lalli, a 2004 graduate of High School North, scored three goals and earned an assist for the Colgate University men’s lacrosse team February 19. Colgate defeated Villanova, 8-6.

Jacques Lebel, a resident of West Windsor, dominated the men’s age 60-64 competition division at the New Jersey State Indoor Track & Field Championships on February 20th at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Center in Hackensack. Lebel won the shot put, high jump, and 55 meter high hurdles.

Sports Registration

AAU West Windsor LadyHawks girls basketball team will be holding tryouts for the 13U division. Girls living in either West Windsor or Plainsboro, 13 and under as of January 1, 2005, are eligible. Call Steve at 609-936-9159 for more information.