Gameday+ | Meet a Buckeye: Sarah Merza, fencing

Ray Stein
Fencer Sarah Merza said she tells freshman teammates to take advantage of the vast resources available at Ohio State. [Eric Albrecht/Dispatch]

Sarah Merza

Sport: Fencing

Age: 21

Year: Senior

Hometown: Wayne, N.J.

Major: Psychology

Question: It didn’t take much research to learn that your sister, Celina, preceded you as an Ohio State fencer; when was she here and what is she doing now?

Answer: Celina was with Ohio State from 2011-16. This past summer she graduated with her master’s in social work and works as a program coordinator. She also still competes in fencing whenever she’s not at work.

Q: With Celina being five years older than you, did you grow up watching her fence? How old were you when you took up the sport?

A: I always aspired to be like her. Every single competition, I would sit in the front row and cheer until I lost my voice. I was traveling with my sister and parents to competitions by the time I was 5 years old. I started doing footwork when I was about 6 or 7 and started local competitions when I was 8.

Q: How much did it help having a mentor who lived in the same house?

A: I can confidently say I wouldn’t be a fencer today if I didn’t have my older sister constantly looking after me. Even now, she’s always the person I want next to me for coaching advice and emotional support. She has experienced everything five years before me, so she always knows exactly what to say, no matter the situation.

Q: Were your parents fencers, as well?

A: Oh no, neither of my parents ever fenced. When my sister started fencing was the first time they had true exposure to fencing.

Q: Your discipline is saber; was that always your weapon, or did you try others first?

A: Saber was always my first choice. I never considered any other because I grew up watching my sister fence saber.

Q: Pardon my ignorance, but is saber the one where combatants yell a lot and charge at each other?

A: Saber is the one where the target is from the waist up, and we are the fastest of the three weapons. One touch can happen in less than a second and we have no time limit, whereas foil and epee have three-minute periods. Saber fencers scream a lot more, I’d say, although all fencers do it. Saber is subjective, so the more you scream the more you’re showing the referee you’re confident that you won the touch.

Q: “Foil is art, Saber is theatre, Epee is truth.” Is this fencing maxim true or false?

A: I’ve never heard that, but I suppose it’s true. I can’t speak for foil and epee, but saber can definitely be seen as theatrical because of the form and way we move.

Q: How important is it to be aggressive in saber? Can you even afford to be passive and wait for your opponent to make a mistake?

A: It’s definitely important to be aggressive more often than not. You can afford to be passive, but it has to be thought out strategically so that you can take over and still win the touch. It’s important to plan out what you want to do before the referee says “fence” so you aren’t going into it blindly.

Q: On the other hand, can sabreurs/sabreuses get too aggressive and hopelessly flail around and become easy targets?

A: If a saber fencer doesn’t have great control or technique, it can be easy for an opponent to find openings and catch them in their mistakes.

Q: “Welcome to fencing: You are now broke.” Is this fencing maxim true or false?

A: This is another one I had never heard, but it’s 100% true. Between training costs, equipment and competitions, it’s definitely one of the more expensive sports, especially if you travel nationally and internationally.

Q: Are fencing swords expensive? How many does the average fencer own?

A: Saber is the least complicated of the three weapons because they don’t have wiring or anything that needs to go into the weapon like foil and epee do. Better-quality sabers can be somewhat expensive. Usually a fencer has three weapons. I had four at one point. If one breaks in competition you need a backup ready.

Q: Is it easy or hard for swords to break?

A: It’s somewhat easy for sabers. I’ve broken many blades by simply trying to bend them into better shape. If a saber is new and clean, it usually should last for a while versus a saber that’s rusty.

Q: Fencing has its own language — fleche, parry, riposte, etc. Do you have a favorite saying?

A: It honestly never occurred to me that the language is different because it’s been all I’ve known. There’s no one word or anything that’s my favorite, but now I’m actually thinking about it.

Q: Do you wear a jacket when you fence, or would that be lame?

A: Hahaha, I see what you did there! Yes, we wear a long-sleeve white jacket and a long-sleeve lame’, which is our electric jacket. The electric jacket attaches to a reel and that makes the lights go off; referees use them to help decipher touches.

Q: Your OSU bio indicates you are a fan of documentary films; what have you seen recently that you would recommend?

A: I’m a huge fan of true-crime documentaries. I’ve watched the “Ted Bundy Tapes,” “The Confession Tapes,” “Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer” and most of the “Forensic Files,” to name a few. My minor is in criminology, so I enjoy watching true crime because I find human behavior — like why people do what they do — so fascinating.

Q: What are your plans post-graduation?

A: I’m looking into graduate programs for clinical mental health counseling that I can complete back home in New Jersey. I plan on applying in January to start next fall so that I can get my master’s ASAP since I will likely pursue a PhD or a PsyD in clinical psychology.

Q: Have you taken time to reflect on your four years here? On a scale of 1 10, how happy are you that you came to Ohio State?

A: Many times over the past few months I’ve stopped and reflected. Knowing that my time here is almost over has been eye-opening. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being no regrets, I’m absolutely at a 10 for choosing Ohio State. The friends I’ve made along the way are lifelong, the program I chose led me to the career path I want to pursue, and athletics offered me more than I could’ve imagined. I’ve had hard days and I’ve had great success, and the people that have surrounded me every step of the way at Ohio State are the people I see standing by me for every high and low in the future.

Q: What advice would OSU senior Sarah give OSU freshman Sarah if she were starting over?

A: Ah, the levels of advice I would give younger me are endless! I’d give her the same advice I give my freshmen teammates: Use the resources around you because Ohio State has endless numbers of hands reaching out to help. Another piece of advice I’d give is just to stress less because as heavy as school work can get, you only get these four years once and there’s not a day worth wasting.

Q: “Fencing isn’t really fighting. It’s more like chess with the risk of puncture wounds.” Is this fencing maxim true or false?

A: This is absolutely true! Any high-level fencer will say that fencing is incredibly mental and many (including myself) say it’s more mental than physical. Fencing is all about planning your action as well as thinking of what your opponent is about to do while also preparing yourself for plans B, C and D if your first idea doesn’t work. It’s definitely similar to chess. You’re never just fighting your opponent but you’re also fighting yourself, keeping your own head on straight and fighting until the very last touch.