AFTER months of preparation and intense training, Filipino fencing prodigy Sam Catantan of Penn State University takes the stage as she aims for a podium finish in this year’s US NCAA Fencing Championship starting Thursday (Friday in Manila) at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.
A field of 144 fencers will see action in the three-day competition to be hosted by Duke University, which includes the top 24 in women’s individual foil.
This will be the third straight season that the 21-year-old Catantan is competing in the tournament proper after she placed fourth in the Mid-Atlantic/South Region NCAA qualifiers.
This time, however, the former University of the East high school fencing star is motivated for a return to the podium after missing the quarterfinal round last year following a bronze medal finish during her rookie campaign back in 2021.
“I’m just excited,” Catantan told The Manila Times in a phone interview a day before the competition where she is the only participant for Penn State in the women’s foil category.
“My goal is to improve from last year, and if the opportunity is there, make it to the top four. From there, anything can happen. I hope to do well, make the school proud and give honor to our country,” added Catantan.
Among the fencers that are expected to also contend for a podium finish are Princeton University’s May Tiu and Maia Weintraub, Singapore’s Amita Berthier of Notre Dame and Zander Rhodes of Columbia.
Catantan, the first “homegrown” Filipino fencer to earn a scholarship in a Division 1 school in the US NCAA, made history when she went undefeated during the opening round with a 20-0 record in pool play in 2021.
Catantan, however, lost her semifinals match against the more seasoned Penn State teammate Lodovica Bicego of Italy. Catantan settled with the bronze medal but was named to the All-America honors in the tournament.
The format this year will have the 24 fencers from three weapons (foil, epee-saber) on all categories play in a single round-robin. The top four fencers from every category will advance in the semifinal stage on a race-to-15 format. The final round is also a race-to-15 duel. — Waylon Galvez
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