RANDOLPH _ Maria Fairfield scolded herself after losing her first sabre bout in the qualifying round at the Morris County Girls Fencing Championships.
Fairfield, a Randolph senior, was called for searching - waving her weapon - and the penalty was costly and irritating.
"I don't usually do that," said Fairfield, who advanced by going 6-2 in the first round. "I was angry. I'm very critical of myself and to be called for that... I wasn't on point."
In the afternoon, Fairfield was perfect, prevailing in all five of her bouts to take top individual honors. Better yet, the Rams' sabre squad, comprised of Fairfield, Jaclyn Altizio and Kayla Leggat, emerged as the county's best.
"I was second last year so I'm very excited," Fairfield said. "I'm grinning ear to ear. I thought I might be a contender. Of course, I was hoping to win. It's so nice that the squad won, too."
Among those cheering Fairfield, also the co-captain of the soccer team, on were good friends Liz Lansing and Carole Harsch, both cross country and track and field standouts.
"Liz and Carole came right over and hugged me," Fairfield said. "They're very supportive of me. It's good to have friends like that."
Morris Knolls, first in epee, third in sabre and fourth in foil, took the team championship with 49 points. The runner-up was Randolph with 47. Morris Hills was third with 46.
"We thought it'd be an interesting day," Golden Eagles coach Sara Haase said. "The girls wanted to do well and they were very focused. We're always out to improve and to be more of a team. We never underestimate or overestimate our opponents."
Haase's yellow Converse sneakers, which her fencers urged her to wear, may have brought Morris Knolls a little bit of luck. The Golden Eagles' fencers noticed that other coaches wore sneakers representative of school colors so they convinced Haase to do the same.
Morris Knolls, led by senior Nikki Krysa and sophomores Meghan Sheldon and Kelly San Roman in epee, was second to Morris Hills last winter. Prior to that, the best showing by the Golden Eagles' girls was first in foil in 2013.
"We're so young," Krysa said. "That's why it's so amazing. We were the underdogs. Our team mentality is a big part of what we do. We support each other. There are no selfish motives. We all want our teammates to win."
Mendham freshman Sara Persau had an exceptional day to garner the individual foil crown. The petite Persau, who is 5 feet tall, went 6-2 in the first round and 5-0 in the afternoon session.
"This feels really good," Persau said. "I knew there'd be a lot of competition going in."
Persau, a recreational swimmer and member of the freshman soccer team, simply kept moving forward by "forgetting about the bouts I lost." There were times when she was aggressive but adjusted according to the style of her opponents.
Her 13th and final bout of the tournament was against Lucille Tsao of Morris Hills. Persau watched Tsao in other bouts then put into action what she had learned and registered a 5-0 victory.
"I hadn't faced her before," Persau said. "I was happy to win. I tried to stay on attack and use what I knew from watching her."
Sophomore Katherine Santsevich, like Fairfield and Persau, rolled in the afternoon, going 5-0 to take the individual epee title. Santsevich had excellent showings recently at the Santelli and the Freshman/Sophomore Tournaments.
Santsevich, thrilled to take home another medal, seemed somewhat surprised by how easily she won some of her bouts.
"I'm pleased that I went undefeated," she said. "I can't believe the difference between my scores and my opponents' scores."
The secret to Fairfield's success? Taking it bout by bout.
"When I lost it was 'Out of sight, out of mind,'" Fairfield said. "I just focused on the next one."
Fairfield was most proud of a first-round bout versus an opponent from Morristown. She trailed 4-3 and was nervous about the possibility of losing. Fairfield was afraid, she said, "to change things up" but managed to even the score, 4-4.
She wound up pulling it out, 5-4. Fairfield, the center midfielder for the soccer team, earned the decisive point by attacking her opponent's "three arm" at the shoulder.
"It was her right arm, the hand she had her weapon in," Fairfield explained. "I hit her and pushed her blade to the side at the same time."
MORRIS COUNTY FENCING CHAMPIONSHIPS
TEAM SCORES: Morris Knolls 49, Randolph 47, Morris Hills 46, West Morris 44, Mendham 43
Epee team scores: Morris Knolls 19, Morris Hills 16, Randolph 14, West Morris 14, Chatham 10, Mendham 10, Butler 10.
Individual epee: Katherine Santsevich (WM) 5-0, Emma Hawkes (MEND) 3-2, Jackie Lanigan (MH) 2-3.
Sabre team scores: Randolph 18, Morristown 17, Morris Knolls 15, Chatham 14.
Individual sabre: Maria Fairfield (RAND) 5-0, Emily Huber (MK) 3-2, Julia Meguro (MEND) 3-2.
Foil team scores: Mendham 19, West Morris 19, Morris Hills 18, Morris Knolls 15, Randolph 15.
Individual foil: Sara Persau (MEND) 5-0, Brooke Solsky (WM) 4-1, Lana Prieur (WM) 2-3.
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