By Priscilla Aguirre
LOGOS ASSISTANT EDITOR
For the first time ever, a student from the University of the Incarnate Word fencing program made it to the 2016 National Collegiate Men’s and Women’s Fencing Championships.
Sophomore Alexander Sless competed March 24-27 in the NCAA Championships held at Brandeis University’s Gosman Sports and Convocation Center in Waltham, Mass. The event consists of a 42-person round-robin where the fencers compete against each other and the four fencers with the best results advance to a direct elimination final.
Sless, a transfer student from the University of Texas at San Antonio, was announced as one of the 144 competitors selected to participate. He finished with a 10-13 record, landing him in 15th place out of 24 fencers in the men’s epee, where points are made by touching any part of the opponent’s body with the tip of the weapon.
“It was a really good experience to have because if I hopefully qualify again next year I know what to expect,” Sless said. “I fenced against people from big schools. I like the challenge but for this being my first time, it was a bit hard.”
Unlike other UIW sports transitioning from Division II to Division I, the fencing team had a chance to send fencers to the NCAA since fencing is not a sport divided into divisions.
To qualify for the NCAA Championships, a fencer must have had at least 21 intercollegiate dual-meet bouts against a varsity team from four-year, degree-conferring schools and have a win-loss record of at least 20 percent.
“I’ve never fenced in a two-day tournament before and I guess I didn’t have the mindset for it,” Sless said. “The first day was OK and the second day was just a bad day. I wasn’t too thrilled about it because I was so close. Although, overall it was a good experience.”
Sless finished the 2015-16 season with a dual-meet record of 29-4, over an 87 percent winning record and one of the best in the nation.
At the Western Regional Individual Championships, Sless came in third and finished the meet with 11 wins and five losses. With the combination of his record during the season and at regionals, Sless was selected as one of the two allotted fencers from the West Region.
“I thought it was cool when I first heard about being the No. 1 fencer in the west,” Sless said. “But the only thing it did was help me qualify for NCAA. If I wasn’t first and I got a lower position, then I could have not qualified for the NCAA.”
Only 24 fencers in each weapon — foil, saber and epee — are selected from 34 schools that support men’s fencing in the United States. Of those 34 schools, only 16 qualified to go to the 2016 NCAA Championships. A school may qualify two fencers in each weapon. Other than UIW, some schools that competed at this year’s championships included Columbia, Ohio State, Princeton, Notre Dame, New York University, Stanford, Penn State, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale.
“UIW was highly complimented on qualifying a fencer to the championships in our first year of competition by other schools,” John Moreau, UIW fencing head coach, said. “I think (Sless) did exceptionally well and it was quite an accomplishment.”
Sless started fencing eight years ago. Born to parents of Russian and Ukranian backgrounds, Sless was exposed to fencing as a child. Sless decided to try fencing after meeting some fencing coaches at a family party.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to play fencing,” Sless said. “I just picked it up around 11 years old. “I still enjoy other sports. I feel like I play basketball more than I fence. I’m not that good at it but I mean I like it. I do fencing competitively and everything else is recreational.”
When he was out of high school, Sless contacted several universities inquiring about fencing. However, he then decided during the application process he would instead concentrate on his studies. From that decision, he started at UTSA and just practiced fencing at a local club in San Antonio.
Shortly after Moreau offered Sless a full-ride scholarship if he joined the fencing team at UIW. Knowing Moreau from his past, Sless took up the offer and joined UIW this spring where he is majoring in biology major and wants to go to medical school to become a surgeon.
“I still focus on school more but being a part of the fencing team is a learning experience,” Sless said. “As the years go on we hope to get more fencers and to keep getting better and better.”
The fencing team at UIW started last fall with Moreau as head coach. The team includes five men and five women, the minimum requirement to qualify for a tournament. On the team, there are walk-on members and members who have fencing experience.
Although Sless was the sole competitor from UIW at the NCAA Championship, the fencing team had a strong regional competition with four other fencers qualifying and a few of them narrowly missed winning a selection nomination.
“Alex has gotten the word out with his finish at the NCAA Championships that UIW is going to be a force to reckon with,” Moreau said. “And as a result we are expecting an even stronger team and more qualifiers next year.”