UC San Diego junior Munira Gesner will lead the Triton Fencing team into this weekend's NCAA West Regionals in UCSD's Main Gym. Coach Heidi Runyan's squad comes into Saturday's clash with Stanford and Air Force, as the nine-time champions of the Intercollegiate Fencing Conference of Southern California (IFCSC) in both the men's and women's divisions. For Gesner, the Regional will provide the opportunity to qualify for a second straight NCAA Championship berth. On the eve of the year's biggest competition, the Sacramento native took time to talk about the pressure of a major event, the intricacies of her sport and what it's like having her sister as a teammate.
Q-How will competing at the past two NCAA West Regionals as well as last year's NCAA Championships help you this year in the post-season?
GESNER-Competing at those three events has really helped me grow as a fencer. I learn a lot from different opponents, and I take what I've learned and incorporate it into my practices and future competitions. What has really helped though is how to get in the tournament mind set. I know how I have to fence, and I know what I have to do once I am on the strip.
Q-Do you feel more pressure at the Regionals or Nationals? Why?
GESNER-I definitely feel more pressure at Regionals. This is the only chance you get to qualify for Nationals. Once you're out, the season is over for you. So, yeah there is a great amount of pressure put on you at Regionals. There is the pressure to do well at Nationals because you're representing your entire school, but when I went to Nationals, I knew that I was going to be up against the best fencers in the collegiate circuit, and I really had nothing to lose. I felt honored just to be there, and I fenced my best.
Q-Does hosting the Regional, as UCSD will be doing this weekend, offer any advantages
GESNER- , there is that "home-field" advantage. However, there is more pressure to perform your best. Everyone there is rooting for you to do well, and that can be little bit daunting. But at the same time, you yourself want to do better; this is the only chance that you can show everyone how good you are so having that crowd helps you mentally as well.
Q-For the layman, explain how the Regional format works.
GESNER-Regionals works like an individual round-robin tournament. Each competitor has to fence a 5 touch bout ( the first person to score 5 touches on one's opponent wins) with everyone in the event. Each person faces off against their teammates first, and then fences against the other competitors. The top four finishers out of the pool fence off in a direct elimination round. In the direct elimination, the competitors fence 15 touch bouts. The first place competitor gets one of the two spots to go to Nationals.
Q-Can you describe your feelings when you knew last year that you had qualified for the NCAA Fencing Championships?
GESNER-I was extremely happy, and surprised. To be honest, that spot really could have gone to anyone, it was a tough tournament. Everyone wanted to get that spot, everyone fenced really well.
Q-What is your favorite recollection of that trip?
GESNER-My favorite recollection of that trip was just competing against the best fencers in the nation.
Q-This year, one of your teammates and sabre rivals is your sister, Megan. What has it been like having her on the team?
GESNER- I love having my sister on the team. We are extremely close, and it has been really fun having her here with me.
Q-Have the two of you faced off on the strip? If so, how often? Is it a strange feeling? Who wins?
GESNER-We did once at a Bladerunner Tournament. She won that bout. It's not that strange, fencing my sister. It's just like fencing every other opponent. Once you're one the strip, even your best friend becomes another obstacle to your goal. That sounds cheesy, but I think that's the mindset that you have to be in to win. It is fun though. When the bout is over, even if I lose to my sister, I feel happy that she won.
Q-How did the two of you get involved in fencing? What has kept you competing?
GESNER-There was a month long fencing class at our middle school. It was during the same season as track. I was at track practice and really didn't want to be there. Then I saw people fencing in the gym and thought " That looks cool, why not give it a shot," and I fell in love with it.
Q-Obviously, your sport involves weapons, but with the safety equipment in use, how dangerous is it? What's the worst injury you've suffered fencing? What are some "typical" fencing injuries?
GESNER-Fencing is surprisingly one of the safest sports out there. We have so much protective gear on, that the worst injuries are usually wear and tear from overuse of muscles and joint injuries. You see a lot of knee and ankle injuries in fencing.
Q-Explain sabre. What makes it different from epee and foil? As a competitor, why did you choose that discipline? What skills are required to be successful in sabre?
GESNER--In sabre, everything above the waste is considered target area. To score a point you have to strike your opponent in that area. This includes head and arms. Whereas in foil, only the chest is target area, and in epee, the whole body is target area. Sabre also uses "right-of-way" where you can only gain the point if you have priority of attacking.
Q-What kind of pride does the Fencing team take in having won nine straight IFCSC Championships in both the men's and women's divisions?
GESNER-We've taken pride in consistently improving over the years. In past years, we haven't been able to claim first place in all six weapons, both individually and team-wise. But this year we were able to take all top spots individually and team-wise.
Q-Who among your teammates do you feel has the best shot at getting one of the coveted NCAA berths this weekend?
GESNER-The thing about fencing is that every person has a shot at winning. Any day could be someone's good day, or someone's bad day. We could send one person from every weapon to Nationals, but like I said, everybody has their day. My teammates have all trained hard and we are all prepared for whoever's day it's going to be. Even if it's someone else's "good day", we just have to work harder, which we can and will do this weekend.
Q-What is something the average person would be surprised to learn about fencing in general? About the UCSD Fencing team in particular?
GESNER--A lot of people are surprised at how non-violent the sport is. For being a sport that involves a lot of swashbuckling, we are not pirates.
Q-What attribute does Coach Heidi Runyan bring to your team that contributes most to its success?
GESNER-Coach Runyan is very competitive and she organizes the team well. She makes sure that we have our priorities straight. When it's time to fence, she makes sure that that's all we're thinking about. She keeps the team focused on its goal.
Q-When you're not competing, training or doing schoolwork, how do you like to spend your free time?
GESNER-If I could, I would spend all my time at the beach. I love snorkeling, and swimming in the ocean. I also enjoy playing the piano, and I spending time with my friends.
Q-You're an environmental systems major but have your eye on medical school. What kind of long range plans do you have in that area?
GESNER-My dream is to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders. I've always wanted to be a doctor and I never really planned on practicing within the U.S. I want to go out and see the world; volunteering as a doctor is exactly what I want to do with my life.
Q-If you hit the lottery tomorrow, what would be the first three things you would do?
GESNER-Smile, dance, then buy a plane ticket to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I've always wanted to explore Angkor Wat.
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