Encountering your first lacrosse stick on the Johns Hopkins University campus will not take long. They can be readily seen on Homewood Field during the afternoons almost year round. That's no surprise -- the school has dominated the sport for more than a century.
More difficult to locate is the cache of rapier-like swords, masks and plastrons that reside somewhere within the athletic complex. Another of the school's premier sports, Hopkins men's fencing has recorded 20 wins during 21 of the last 40 seasons.
On March 1, the Hopkins men's fencing team will compete for its third straight Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association (MACFA) crown. The Hopkins fencing program has won a record 27 MACFA championships and has appeared in the NCAA tournament 32 times. The MACFA Championships will be held in the Goldfarb gymnasium on the Homewood campus.
According to Hopkins coach Austin Young, it's going to be a tight three-team race between the Blue Jays, Stevens Tech and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
"Stevens has increased their recruiting profile and has been getting better and better," Young said. "NJIT has brought in one Brazilian, two Swedes and a Slovenian -- all of whom were number one in their countries. It's going to be tough, but we're still deeper."
Fencers specialize in one of three classes of weaponry. The epee, foil and sabre dictate the event structure of a fencing competition. The bouts take place on a strip and fencers "lunge" and "parry" in an attempt to score "touches" against their opponent. Even though the scoring is electronic, the referees, or "directors," as they are called, can play a role in the outcome through their interpretation of "right of way."
"Consistency is key," Young said. "Some directors will give leeway to the person moving forward. Knowing the director is important."
This year's men's team is anchored by 6-foot-4 junior Glenn Balbus and his poignant foil. He is 26-10 for the season and 152-67 during his career.
"Glen's really hitting his stride," Young said. "He has gotten a lot better during his time here."
Young has also been pleased with the development of freshman Sandy Vingoe, who is 28-8 and recently swept the University of Pennsylvania sabre fencers.
Young coaches both the men's and women's fencing teams at Hopkins. He took over the men's team from the legendary Dick Oles in 2003, and his record is 220-110. He started coaching the women in 2009, and he has compiled a 75-38 record.
Senior captain Gianna Puzo has continued to develop during her four years, and she has a 15-8 record in the epee competition.
Coach Young took up fencing in sixth grade and received a partial athletic scholarship to Rutgers University. As an assistant coach for the Scarlet Knights, he helped lead them to the NCAA tournament twice. He spends a lot of time in his home state looking for future Blue Jay fencers. He said the state of New Jersey has the most developed high school fencing in the country.
What does he look for on the recruiting trail?
"I'd like to see a strong competitive background and a fiery spirit," Young said. "It's good to be left-handed and tall. Speed is important. I look for very smart and competitive kids."
For Young, it's all about preparation and precision when his fencers are on the strip and facing their opponent.
"They have a game plan and a set of actions they will use," Young said. "They are confident and have a good idea of what's coming. They know the underlying strategy. My goal is to keep them fresh for the end of the season."
After the conference championships, the men's team will travel to Duke to compete in the regional event that determines which fencers will make the NCAA tournament.