MORRISTOWN _ Alicja Tomaszewski already had been fencing for seven years when she joined the Morris Hills High School team in the fall of 2013.
"Alicja took things by storm," said Sara Ng, the Scarlet Knights' "C" strip sabre fencer. "She came in with a lot of experience."
Tomaszewski's seasoning has meant a great deal to Morris Hills, which finished sixth in sabre and 10th overall at the Santelli Tournament at the Morristown Armory on Saturday, Dec. 4.
Mendham scored 45 points, one less than Morris Hills, to take ninth place at the 45-team competition. The Minutemen, led by senior captain Sarah Zimmerman, were seventh in foil.
Although she's a sophomore, Tomaszewski's older teammates value her for her knowledge and for all of the hours she's logged while training and competing for Bergen Fencing.
Last winter, the Scarlet Knights made it to the second pool for sabre at the Santelli. This time, Morris Hills advanced to the first pool. Tomaszewski, who fences "A" strip, went 5-1 in her first-round bouts.
"We saw what Alicja had learned and we combined that with what we already knew," Sara Ng said. "That's made a big difference. It's my senior year so I'm excited. Everything is so rosy colored. This is the best team we've had since I've been here."
Another senior, Karen Kong, the "B" sabre, also noted how the Scarlet Knights have "been more confident and help each other out more" now that Tomaszewski is on the squad.
The low-key Tomaszewski certainly doesn't mind sharing her knowledge and praised her teammates for assisting her.
"I may make improvements technically at my club but I am better with the team," she said. "Everyone's given me confidence and told me to believe in myself. As an individual, I sometimes don't have enough confidence but, with the team, I do."
Morris Hills, which returned seven of nine starters, is off to a strong start thus far, going 3-1 in its matches. In their opener on Dec. 20, the Scarlet Knights defeated Mendham, traditionally one of the best teams in Morris County, 19-8. Morris Hills prevailed, 7-2, in sabre.
"We have experience," Scarlet Knights coach Tony Knuth said. "The chemistry is very good. We're more balanced now. We were best at epee and sabre last season. Foil has improved. It's catching up."
Laura Ng, a senior tri-captain along with her twin sister, Sara, and Katie Lynskey, is Morris Hills' "A" strip fencer. Lynskey is "A" in foil.
"The Santelli is really big," Kong said. "We're doing well against other schools from all over the state which is great. We have a saying this year. It's 'Small steps up the line.' It means to take small steps so we can see what an opponent is doing."
Mendham, according to coach Tom Outwin, has much camaraderie but will need to mature. In addition to Zimmerman, a three-year starter, the Minutemen will rely on Sarah Redick ("A" epee) and Meredith Gano ("B" sabre).
"We're a little down on talent but we're coming around," Mendham coach Tom Outwin said.
Outwin was encouraged by the recent freshman/sophomore competition, where 67 percent of his fencers medaled.
Zimmerman, though, continues to perform at a high level as do Redick and Gano. A year-round fencer who belongs to the Clinton Club, Zimmerman, the Morris County Tournament champion in foil, has nine victories in four matches.
She has been invaluable in Mendham's moniteur system in which older fencers train the younger ones.
"The teaching aspect and the tutelage have helped Sarah understand problems and how to fix them," Outwin said. "She offers a different spin on things and is held in high regard. The moniteur system has put the kids more in charge of the team.
"There are no coaches yelling and screaming on the side. Instead, the fencers get help from their peers."
In addition, Zimmerman, dubbed a mother hen by Outwin, chooses which athletes will fence and assigns them to strips. Of course, Zimmerman consults with Outwin before positions are finalized.
"Teaching is a good way to understand," Zimmerman said. "If I can explain it, that means I understand it. I can face a less experienced fencer and recognize certain styles and use it to my advantage."
sDespite being accomplished in the sport, she has many personal goals.
"Fencing is mental and physical so I work on tactical moves," Zimmerman said. "I want to calm down and just fence. I think positive and go touch by touch. I want to have tunnelvision on the strip."
As captain, Zimmerman makes sure "everyone supports each other." She wants her teammates to fight and do their best. For bonding, the fencers exchange "psych bags" and make T-shirts.
"I like the high school season," she said. "It's different and more exciting. There's no pressure on me as an individual. It's a team effort."
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