RANDOLPH _ Mendham's Sarah Zimmermann has an abundance of musical talent, performing with the New Jersey Youth Chorus as a mezzo soprano and playing the trumpet in the high school's marching band.
Zimmermann also possesses exceptional fencing abilities.
On Saturday, Jan. 19, Zimmermann, the athlete, was in top form, winning all five of her bouts in the afternoon, to take the foil title at the Morris County Fencing Championships held at Randolph High School.
Willamina Groething took top individual honors in epee, giving Morris Hills its first champion, male or female, in school history. Chatham's Elaina Clougherty finished first in sabre. Clougherty and her teammates claimed the team title with 40 wins, edging out the host Rams and Morris Hills.
As for Zimmermann, it would be understandable if she wanted to blow her own horn after her fine showing on the strip. Zimmermann, a junior, bounced back after going 4-2 in the team competition.
"I'm so excited. I get so much support from the team," Zimmermann said. "Fencing is something I do year round. This shows how much I put into it."
Zimmermann didn't allow herself to become discouraged after her two setbacks. She listened to music and rested while waiting for the afternoon session to begin. She also talked with her coaches and rethought her strategy.
"I just wanted to do something to escape the busy gym and brush off the losses," Zimmermann said. "I reminded myself to take every bout touch by touch. It's important to stay optimistic and keep out of ruts.
"We reworked my strategy. I couldn't fence offensively. I couldn't be as aggressive."
And, there was one more element behind Zimmermann's success. She prides herself on her tough mental approach.
"The mental part is big for me," Zimmermann said. "It's all about keeping your head in focus and setting goals."
Groething, a senior, and Skyler Browning-Doorn of Chatham both had 4-1 records at the conclusion of the epee competition and had to fence off to decide first place. Groething, a Mount Olive resident who attends the Academy of Mathematics, Science and Engineering at Morris Hills, took the bout, 5-1.
She split with Browning-Doorn in two previous matches at the championships.
"I went back to what worked for me in the morning when I beat her," Groething said. "I changed attacks after talking with my coaches and maintained advantageous distance."
Clougherty, a junior, also had to engage in a fence off to determine who would be awarded the gold medal. She beat Maria Fairfield of Randolph.
Chatham, whose boys team also was triumphant, reveled in its title for several reasons. The Cougars, who graduated eight seniors, emerged from the pack and topped teams with long, impressive histories. Chatham is a third-year program.
"We beat programs that are 20, even 30 years old," Chatham coach Chris Palmer said. "I feel good about how hard everyone has been working. The skill and the focus have improved. This was a big leap."
The Cougars registered 18 of their points in sabre. Clougherty and senior Hannah Tognola went undefeated in their bouts. Fourteen points were posted by the epee unit, which features Browning-Doorn and Gabby Simon, a junior. The aforementioned fencers each went 5-2.
"It's exciting to think that we're the best team in the county," Simon said. "That's great because we're so new."
Simon, with the program since its inception, said she was unsure of herself as a freshman but gained confidence that enabled her to go up against the best.
Morristown was the epee squad champion. The other champions were Morris Knolls (foil) and Chatham (sabre).
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