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It could be a very happy winter for Harvard fencing coach Edo Marion. Consider: The Crimson is coming off its highest Ivy League finish ever (second place), and Marion lost but two of his nine front-line performers. Consider: Harvard has added two experienced freshman fencers, both of whom have already qualified for the United States Under-Nineteen National Team, and one of whom is the Under-Nineteen foil and epee champion. Consider: the entire squad has a year's experience under its belt. Edo Marion has reason to smile.
"Potentially, this may be the strongest team that I've ever had in my 21 years as coach here," he said last Wednesday. "There are very strong possibilities that we could take second place in the Ivies again, and maybe even take a shot at Columbia for first."
Marion speaks softly when he talks about first place. He doesn't want to make waves with talk of titles. He does not want fate (and the opposition) to take his cautions optimism for overblown pride, because...well...all the first place talk is very "iffy."
"If" the squad plays up to its potential, it can be an Ivy power. "If" that squad can throw off the sluggishness that shat plagued it through pre-season practice and the "breeds" (intrasquad competition bouts for first team position), the squad could contend. "If" the squad members can get to practice on a regular basis, Marion could think seriously about his first Ivy title. If... If... If...
Marion is less than happy with the absenteeism the team has exhibited, especially among his veterans. He is dissatisfied with the "supposed team leaders" who have been skipping practice. Today Marion plans to call the squad together to discuss the problem. "We do not want to have a few people undermining the effort of the whole team," he said Wednesday.
Providing that the organizational problems can be ironed out, the Crimson fencers could well be the most evenly balanced team that Harvard has had in some time. Each of the three weapons is potentially strong.
Marion originally expected his sabre squad, which carried Harvard most of last year and which took a fifth in the Easterns, to be his strongest weapon. With team captain Terry Valenzuela and sophomore Gordon Rutledge back after outstanding seasons last years (They had a combined bouting record of 66-20), the weapon looked like it would again be the team's forte. But Marion has been disappointed thus far with their performance. "They are not fencing well yet," Marion said. "There is too much slashing, too much nervousness, too much emotionalism. They haven't shown enough control yet."
Marion is plotting an intense "rehabilitation" course to bring the sabre squad back to last year's level of excellence. His target day is February 1, the first day of Harvard's busiest fencing month. The squad has 12 dual matches in February, including contents with perennial powers NYL. Princeton and Penn.
With the sabre team's pre-season difficulty in resuming last year's level of performance. Marion now looks toward his foil contingent on his strongest weapon. This will surprise a few people because this was where Harvard was weakest last year. The major reason for the coach's optimism in Phillip Bennett, one of the Crimson's two Under-Nineteen standouts. Bennett is described by Marion as "an excellent performer," although the coach says he is "not as technically refined as he might be."
The foil squad will also be strengthened by the return of Howard Weiss from an academic leave of absence. Weiss is described as a "tough performer" by Marion and could be a cornerstone for the success of this year's foil team.
Last year's top foil man. David Fichter, also returns to give the team three solid performers in the weapon. Fichter in generally considered the best technician and stylist of the foil squad but he has problems--he is often overcautious and slow--which he must overcome.
In epee, last year's captain and All-American. Geza Tatrallyay, is gone, but his absence will probably not be felt nearly as severely as one might expect. Chris Jennings, the second half of the freshman "dynamic duo," will more than make up for the loss of Tatrallyay. "Jennings is as good, if not better than Geza," Marion said. Jennings is Under-Nineteen champion in both epee and foil, and is by far the most highly touted freshman fencer to come to Harvard in a long time, Jennings will probably take a right over at number one for Marion's epee squad.
The second spot will be manned, as last year, by Eugene White. White has gained experience since last season, and last weekend he took first place in an AFLA New England fencing tournament, beating 22 competitors for the top spot. "The first place finish could give White the confidence in himself that he needs," Marion said.
The Ivy League shapes up pretty much as it always does. Columbia again will be the team to best and must, on the basis of past performances and the Lions's well-established program, be rated the favorite for the title. Princeton, Penn, and Harvard are closely bunched behind Columbia, in a league that Marion calls "the strongest in the U.S." The race will be tight for second place and possibly for the first time in years. Columbia could be seriously challenged for the crown
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