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Cheng going for score against Musni

Photo Courtesy of Dan Cheng
Cardinal Fencing Sweep All City Tournament

This past Saturday, April 21, Lowell’s fencing team entered the All City tournament at the Washington High School gym and finished the day by capturing all 5 of the CIFSF titles: Overall Team Champion, Boys Team Champion, Girls Team Champion, All City Girls Individual Champion, and All City Boys Individual Champion.

The Cardinals dominated the All City tournament, with the girls sweeping the top 3 slots: Rachael Ferguson – 1st, Monica Lee – 2nd, Jayne Stewart 3rd, and Jacqueline Woo – 5th.  The boys placed 3 fencers in the top 8: Alex Cheng – 1st, Ofri Harlev – 3rd, Walter Pan – 6th, and Evan Li - 16th.

The boys and girls squads retained their team titles by virtue of their undefeated 8-0 season.  For the boys, it was a 4-peat as their undefeated season continued their hold on the Jack Baker Trophy.  The girls also repeated as team champions, holding the Orly-O’Brien Trophy for 3 of the last 4 years.

Although Lowell was assured the boys and girls team titles, there was no guarantee that Lowell would retain the overall team champion’s Visconti Trophy.  The Visconti award is based on the performances of a school’s individual fencers at the All City Tournament, as well as that school’s record during the season. 

Coach Scott Cunningham’s All City squad consisted of Seniors Cheng, Stewart, Ferguson, Pan, and Sophomores Woo, Harlev, Lee, and Li.  Other key fencers during the regular season, Ellande Tang, Marc Cunningham, and Stefani Kahookele, had previous engagements and did not participate.

Lowell was heavily favored going into the tournament, but nothing was a guarantee as Lowell’s opponents were primed to upset Cardinal dreams.  The absence of last year’s girls individual champion and runner-up, Convent’s Eliza Klyce and Lowell’s Stefani Kahookele, presented a great opportunity for someone new to add her name to the Girls Individual Trophy.

With that in mind, the Lowell girls charged into the morning’s seeding pools with high hopes.  Those hopes were realized as the girls were seeded (1) Ferguson, (2) Woo, (4) Stewart, and (7) Lee.  Further helping Lowell’s chances was the girls bracket seeding, with Ferguson and Stewart seeded in the top bracket, while Woo and Lee were in the lower bracket.  All the girls swept their early rounds, but due to the bracketing, the Lowell girls found themselves facing each other in the round of 8, the semi-finals, and final rounds.

In the lower bracket round of eight, it was Lee facing Woo, the bout of the entire tournament.  Both were evenly matched and battled each other for over 15 minutes.  Lee finally won 15-14 in the last seconds of the third and final period.  It was a tough match for Coach Cunningham to watch as he could only observe (proudly) and not offer any advice to either fencer.  Still, Cunningham was pleased with both fencers and was happy that both Woo and Lee fought through the tournament to reach this point.  As exhausted as Lee was, she was not done, as she was just one win away from the finals.

Her quarterfinal bout was hard-fought and no easy run, going up against Isabelle Pinard, an experienced fencer from Convent.  This was almost an exact repeat of her previous bout, and Lee again hung on by a slim margin of 15-13, with both fencers trading points to the very end.

Lee did have some time to rest and recover before her final match against the winner of the upper bracket. Ferguson and Stewart faced each other in the quarterfinal round in another marathon 3-period bout, with Ferguson overcoming Stewart 12-10. Like before, Coach Cunningham could only silently watch his fencers battle each other.

After this drama in the round of 8 and the final four, Ferguson defeated Lee 15-5 for the girls title.  Stewart bounced back and defeated Pinard 15-10 in the fence-off for third.  It was a great tournament for the Lowell girls as Seniors Ferguson and Stewart finished their Lowell fencing careers in the medal circle.

For Woo and Lee, their hard work and long practices resulted in success, hopefully leading the girls team to more championships in the upcoming seasons. For Coach Cunningham it was a pleasant surprise that his sophomore girls accomplished so much in their first All City Tournament.

On the boys side there was much less drama and a less favorable bracket seeding, with 3 Lowell fencers in the upper bracket: Cheng, Pan, and Li, with Harlev being the lone Lowell fencer in the lower bracket.  As expected Lowell fencers faced each other in the rounds of 16, 8, and the quarterfinals.

While there was little drama in the boys bracket, there was a surprise upset. The 25th seed, Lowell’s Evan Li, defeated number 8 seed Michael Fontana, Urban HS. In only his second year of fencing, Li came up big and beat the more experienced Fontana 15-10.  Cunningham stated this was a great result for Li, especially since many of Li’s season bouts were very close and often went to overtime. But Li’s run would end in the sweet 16 round, as he lost to teammate Pan, a very experienced senior (10-15).

This was Pan’s third All City, and like the past he breezed through his early rounds, but yet again he met fellow senior Alex Cheng, this time in the round of 8.  As teammates, this is the third All City tournament that Cheng and Pan have met each other. Pan held Cheng close at 10-15.

Meanwhile, in lower bracket, Harlev easily fought through his early rounds by scores of 15-2, 15-7, and 15-2.  Like his teammate Pan, Harlev had to face the very experienced Cheng.  He fenced well in the quarterfinals, but Cheng’s experience and skill was too much to overcome (4-15). 

For Cheng, he was now one last final match away from entering the history books. A win will earn him an unprecedented 4th All City Boys Individual Championship and the honor of joining Lowell alumni Heather Logas and Alfred Louie as the only Lowell fencers to capture All City Individual titles in each of their years on the varsity team.

In his last All City final, Cheng faced up-and-coming Rafael Musni from Wallenberg.  Musni got off to a quick 2-0 lead over Cheng, but that early burst would not last as Cheng soon tied the score and began his methodical march to history.  In short order it was a Cheng victory (15-8), and a mission accomplished.  His 4th All City Boys Individual Championship helped lead Lowell to an unprecedented 4th Visconti Overall Championship Trophy.

Thus, a 4-year run ends with the graduation of Cheng, Ferguson, Pan, and Stewart. The future seems bright with experienced sophomores looking to defend the CIFSF titles.  Coach Cunningham anticipates strong girls and boys teams with returning fencers Stefani Kahookele, Jacqueline Woo, Monica Lee, Ellande Tang, Marc Cunningham, Ofri Harlev, and Evan Li.  But success is not guaranteed, so keep up the hard work, Cardinals!