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Small but Mighty

Mar 8, 2021

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The goals were different for the Stanford fencing team at the Western Invitational on Saturday and Sunday. For at least two decades, the Cardinal emerged with a men's or women's team title. 

But so much has changed this season. COVID-19 and the scheduled discontinuation of the program caused the numbers on the team to drop. Rather than fight for team titles, Stanford brought a team a five – three women and two men – that was too small to play for team victories. Instead, Stanford played … because it could. 

And guess what? The Cardinal won ... a lot.

The women's team of freshmen Haley Koo, Irene Yeu, and Joy Yun went a combined 41-7. And the men's tandem of saber specialists Donghwan Park, a freshman, and sophomore Calvin Zau, went 20-13.

In all, the Cardinal went 61-20 individually, even as the men's and women's teams combined 1-11.

The four-team event at the Air Force Academy was Stanford's season opener. It was not an National Collegiate qualifier, but it will be used as a means to determine who will advance to the national tournament. 

Because there are no regionals this season, regional committees instead will determine who will advance. Based on their performances over the weekend, Koo, Yeu, Yun, and Park will be recommended for automatic qualification by coach Lisa Posthumus and Zau will be recommended as a wild card. 

"I'm excited for their future, in whatever it might be," Posthumus said. 

The National Collegiate field will be announced on March 18 and the tournament will be March 25-28 at Penn State. 

Each of Stanford's women had the best record of anyone on any team in their weapon. Koo went 15-1 in foil, Yeu went 15-2 in epee, and Yun went 11-4 in saber. Each was making their collegiate debut, beginning at 7 a.m. PT on Saturday at Cadet Field House.

Koo beat her first opponent, Incarnate Word's Magali Martinez, 5-0, and ripped off 15 consecutive victories before suffering her only loss, in her final match Sunday to UC San Diego's Konami Masui, 5-3. On Saturday, Koo had shut out Masui, who would go 8-3 over the weekend. 

"When Haley lowers her mask, she is the toughest person in the room," Posthumus said. "She dominated the opposition all weekend."

Koo, from Old Tappan, New Jersey, outscored her opponents, 78-20.

Yeu, from La Canada, California, went undefeated Saturday and her only losses came against Air Force on Sunday. 

"Watching Irene fence is remarkable," Posthumus said. "Her calm and cool demeanor while crushing her opponent is always fun to see."

Posthumus described Yeu's style as "graceful" and "beautiful to watch." 

And Yun, from Portland, Oregon, comes from a versatile athletic background. She has black belt in karate and competed nationally in rhythmic gymnastics. 

"Joy's athleticism, mixed with a determination to win, helps her to analyze every situation on the strip to her advantage," Posthumus said. 

For the men, Zau went 11-7 and Park 9-6. 

Stanford's team may have been small, but it was mighty.