Danielle Gaudet did not choose Boston College for its fencing program, but ended up as captain of the team. (GAUDET FAMILY)

It’s ‘en garde’ for Danielle Gaudet

Lynn resident is going into her second season as Boston College's fencing captain

LYNN -- When Lynn’s Danielle Gaudet was a freshman at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Boston, she was trying to decide what sport to try during the winter season.

BB&N requires students to play a sport in each season, as a substitute for physical education, during their first three years of high school. Gaudet already played field hockey in the fall and softball in the spring. She asked around to see what her friends were planning on trying, and settled on an unconventional sport: fencing.

“I picked it up almost on a whim,” said Gaudet.

Fast forward to Gaudet’s senior year of college, which she’ll be entering this month. Gaudet is a captain on the Boston College women’s fencing team, and the sport has become a big part of her life.

Gaudet didn’t choose BC for sports; she’s a Classics major, aiming to continue her education in graduate school and later obtain a PhD in the discipline and enter into academia. But when she started college, she considered what activities she would become involved with. Fencing wasn’t at the forefront of her mind, however.

“I thought about what, of the things I participated in in high school, could transfer over,” Gaudet said. “I found out they had a varsity fencing team, and initially, that was something I hadn’t thought about all that much.”

In an interesting coincidence, an assistant coach at BC was a coach at BB&N during Gaudet’s freshman year. She got in touch with the coach, and joined the team.

Gaudet was named a captain in her junior year, a role that she’s enjoyed.

“It’s a very different role than I had experienced in high school, but it’s the community aspect and being a support system or my team that transferred over to my experience as a captain last year,” she said.

There have been challenges, though. When joining the team, Gaudet had to switch weapons to satisfy a need on the roster, which is not uncommon for fencers. There are three weapons used in the sport: epee, foil and sabre. The differences between the weapons include build sizes, the target area you’re aiming for on your opponent, and priority rules (for example, when you can hit to get a point).

In high school, Gaudet used the epee. The target area is from head to toe, and if both opponents hit simultaneously, they’ll both receive a point. In college, Gaudet had to switch to foil, and the target area is restricted to upper body excluding the arms and neck, and there are “right of way” rules that dictate who has priority.

Gaudet said that the change took an adjustment period.

“Honestly, it probably took me about two full years to be comfortable,” she recalled. “Coming from epee to foil, the right of way rules were completely unknown to me. I knew the rules, but hadn’t sat down and watched those bouts to figure out what exactly was governing those changes in priority. I had to learn the rules and how to enact them in that fraction of a second you have to gain priority to get a point.”

But Gaudet said switching weapons is a common story in college fencing, especially with a program like BC’s that keeps getting stronger every year.

“It ultimately comes down to the needs of the team, and we’ll go where we’re needed every given season,” she added.

Over the course of her first three years, Gaudet has seen the program grow by leaps and bounds.

“My freshman year was one of our first big incoming freshmen classes. Now we have strong classes under us and a lot of potential for us to do better in some of the upcoming tournaments,” she said.

Gaudet’s freshman year was the first time Boston College competed in the ACC tournament with Duke, UNC and Notre Dame. Now the Eagles are gearing up for their fourth, and it’s come full circle for Gaudet.

“I’m excited to see the past three years of hard work paying off,” she said.

She saw that growth firsthand last season at the Beanpot of fencing, with Harvard, MIT and Brandeis. The Eagles gave Harvard a run for its money, no small accomplishment since Harvard has won every Beanpot tournament since its creation 10 years ago.

That means Gaudet will be leaving behind a program that is moving in the right direction.

“I really do think that the leadership on our team plays a big role, because everyone is fully invested in everyone else’s success. It’s an individual sport at its root, and coming into the college environment, it’s uncommon for people to have a lot of team experience,” Gaudet said. “It’s more about individual development. In a program building up its reputation, it’s easy to get caught up trying to recruit talented individuals rather than dedicated teammates. BC has a good balance. Everyone coming to the team is willing to fully invest themselves in the team and put aside the individual.”

Like balancing individual accomplishments with team success, Gaudet also faces the challenge of juggling her academics and commitment to the sport.

“It’s certainly not easy, but it’s definitely important for me, coming to BC as a student-athlete with the athlete coming second,” she said. “Academics always come first for me, but at the same time, I’m committed to the sport. My philosophy is once I’ve dedicated myself to something, I’m going to give it 100 percent, and to this point I haven’t had to sacrifice anything.”

Gaudet’s leadership on the team and academic success was recognized when she received the Academic Advisors Award for Academic Excellence. It’s given to an upperclass student-athlete with the highest GPA, and someone who shows leadership potential and ability.

“It meant a lot to me,” she said. “I haven’t been a starter for the last three years, but to see that I’m doing a good job striking that balance, it’s very affirming.”

Gaudet will look to make the most of her senior season when the Eagles begin the 2017-18 campaign at the NEIFC Fall Invitational at Smith College in Northampton on Nov. 4.

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