UCSB’s fencers will travel to Irvine for an open individual tournament, which will be their first event of the year.

“I’m really excited about this season. We’ve got so much potential, and every year we just seem to be building on it more and more,” men’s epee captain Jason Shattuck said.

Santa Barbara really has enjoyed a renaissance in its fencing program over the last couple of years. The change is most evident in the numbers of fencers participating each season – the Gauchos have gone from on the brink of losing their university funding due to a lack of participants to almost doubling their roster to a total of 30 this year.

That swing can be attributed to Shattuck, the vice president of the club, and president Chris Noyes. The two have taken control of the program, running it together as well as being full-time students.

“We pushed really hard in recruitment, and I feel that it’s really going to pay off for our club,” said Noyes, who competes in the foil.

One area in which the Gauchos are lacking is their women’s team. Though the women placed sixth overall in the Southern California region last year, the team is still struggling to find female fencers who can compete on the collegiate level. The saber team is nonexistent, and there is only one female foil fencer returning from the previous squad.

Overall, though, UCSB can look forward to a successful season. Aided by the men’s fifth overall finish last year, in addition to the results of the women, Santa Barbara heads into Irvine looking to upset the balance of power.

The real test for the team, however, will come Nov. 2 when they get their first look at NCAA rivals UC San Diego, Caltech and Cal State Fullerton. Fullerton, coached by a former Olympian and boasting one of the strongest fencing programs on the West Coast, looks all but invincible.

“They’re going to be tough, very tough. But teams like that make it all the better when you upset them,” Noyes said.

Last year UCSB did just that to Caltech, defeating them handily and giving all the other teams in the Intercollegiate Fencing Conference of Southern California something to think about. The Gauchos also hope to get some sweet revenge against UCSD, who beat them soundly last season.

“We’re looking to get that win against them, and we can do it with the team we have this year,” Noyes said.

The biggest advantage the program has this year is a dedicated core of returning fencers who have been putting in work all season. Second-year coach Mike Tiffany even urges his athletes to travel every Saturday to the practice site of his own club, the Conejo Fencers, in order to get an extra work session in. The continual interest of novice fencers has also boosted the program’s chances for a great season.

Shattuck, who won the Cal Poly Turkey Tournament and the UC Davis Invitational last year, is optimistic.

“If we keep this up, keep building on the foundation that’s already been laid, we’re going to have a lot of success. I can’t wait to compete,” Shattuck said.

Open practices are every Mon. and Tues. from 4:00 to 6:15 p.m. and Fri. 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Rob Gym 2120. Newcomers are welcome.