Sophia Tweddle has returned to school from Winter Tournament Week a national champion, having won the Women’s Epee title at the New Zealand Secondary School Fencing Championships in Christchurch.
Sophia has been involved in fencing since primary school but this is her first schools title. “I have been going to the NZSS nationals every year since I started secondary school but this is my first big win,” said Sophia who is year 12 at Wellington East Girls’ College. “While I’ve been getting podium places at national competitions for two-three years now, the NZSS Women’s Epee title is my first national title in any age group.”
Sophia is currently ranked first in New Zealand for U17 Women’s Epee, first in NZSS Women’s Epee, third in New Zealand Junior (U20) Women’s Epee and fifth at NZ Women’s Open Epee.
Fresh from winning the NZSS title, Sophia is not resting on her sword.
“I have got competitions coming up over the next few weeks. This coming weekend I’ll be fencing in an Australian Open competition - AFC 4 - in Sydney, followed by New Zealand Juniors the following weekend and then New Zealand Nationals over Labour weekend in October. So when you add in training camps it’s a long season! And quite a bit of time away from school - which has only been possible because my Dean and teachers at WEGC have been so supportive.”
In a field of 11 fencers in the epee competition at the recent NZSS tournament, the first round was a round-robin series (a poule round) where everyone fought each other in bouts that lasted up to three minutes and went up to 5 points. Sophia won eight and lost two.
“After the poule round you go into direct elimination and I was seeded third for this. I had the bye in the first round so it was straight to quarter-finals, semi-finals and then the final, and these bouts were up to 15 points.”
In these three knockout rounds Sophia beat Zoe Holden (Mount Albert Grammar School) 15-11, second seed Sally Zhang (Kristin School) 15-8 and then top seed Amey Smith (Mount Albert Grammar School) 15-7 in the final.
“I had actually already lost to both Sally and Amey in the poule round, so I was nervous going into these. We have up to three three-minute rounds to get to the winning 15 points, but in these I won in two rounds. Before these I struggled with the first bout against Zoe, it got really close but I managed to win at the end.”
There were three main individual disciplines at the NZSS nationals, foil and epee and sabre.
The foil and sabre are lighter weapons and you can only hit the torso area. The epee is a bit heavier and you can hit all over including the legs and arms. In foil and sabre you have the right of attack but in epee that doesn’t matter.
The objective in fencing is to score points with hits. All hits in foil and epee must be with the tip of the blade, but in sabre points scoring with the side of the blade is also valid.
“I actually turned to epee from foil more seriously this year. I was training with epee and I did really well in a couple of competitions I entered and I have stuck with it since.”
The Men’s Foil at the NZSS nationals was won by Koki Endo of Hutt Valley High School, while
Sining Ye from Auckland Girls’ Grammar School won the Women’s Foil, James Butler from Mount Albert Grammar School won the Men’s Epee and Nelson Lee from Macleans College won the Mixed Sabre. There were also teams events, four of which were won by Auckland schools.
Sophia is not alone participating in her sport at her school. There is now a small fencing club at WEGC, helped set up by her coach Daniel Chan.
There are plenty of opportunities for domestic and international travel in fencing, which is also a long-time Olympic Sport.
“In a typical year I will fence in around 15-16 regional, national and international competitions. This year, for example, in addition to regional and national age group and open competitions, I’ve fenced at the Oceania and Australian Juniors in Melbourne, the AFC 1 and Australian U23 Epee in Brisbane, the Asian Zone Cadet and Juniors in Dubai the Australian Cadets in Sydney and the Commonwealth Cadet & Junior Fencing Champs in Newcastle, England in July.”
Fast five questions With Sophia:
How and when did you start fencing?
“My dad did it and my brother was doing it so I went along and joined in. I started in year 6 and took it up seriously when I started college. I was doing other sports, and I was a competitive swimmer up to that point.”
How much time does training and practice take up?
“There are two strength and conditioning programmes a week. Then there’s training sessions that involve hand coordination and footwork and then fencing.
How much of fencing is mental?
Much of it is in the mind, it is like physical chess, so lots of concentrating.
What is the equipment you wear?
For my specific discipline, epee, it requires full length protection as you can attack anywhere on the body. The basic gear everyone will have is breeches [pants], shoes, knee-high socks, a chest protector, arm protector a jacket over that, gloves a mask, the wire and then the epee, which is the actual weapon.
Do you get injuries?
The gear does protect you, but we often get a few bruises on our legs and arms, you get used to it! We have got a wire and when you hit the target a light will come up so you don’t need to be too hard on attack.
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