Taking a stab at glory

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For the past four years, Horia Puscas has been Ryerson’s most successful yet unheralded fencer. Now he’s hoping to be an assistant coach with the team and train the next wave of fencers to new heights. Sports editor Rob Moysey reports

After leaving Romania at age 14, Horia Puscas thought he had left his love of fencing behind forever.

Little did he know that after a seven- year absence from competition, Ryerson’s varsity fencing team would rekindle that passion in him.

Now he’s returning the favour.

After a distinguished professional sabre fencing career that includes a bronze medal in the 2007 OUA Championships and Ryerson’s D.H. Craighead Trophy for the greatest contribution to interuniversity sport by a male athlete last year, Puscas, 25, has decided to join the fencing team as an assistant coach to help beginners learn the ropes and embrace the little-known sport — provided the school approves.

“My goal is to build up Ryerson’s team. We have some really good individuals,” said Puscas, a recent computer engineering graduate. “I’m interested in growing the sport of fencing. Right now, at least with sabre and foil [fencers] in Ontario, there are almost zero.”

Fencing head coach Alice Lu is gunning to have Puscas train sabre fencers for Ryerson as early as the winter semester, when Maple Leaf Gardens opens it doors. Her specialty is on epee and foil fencing, which is a more stationary style that focuses on reflexes; sabre fencing relies more on quick footwork. Lu hopes that Puscas’s enthusiasm and high skill level will rub off on beginners.

“I asked the school to give him an assistant coach position with Ryerson. They haven’t made a final decision on it yet, but I don’t think it would be a problem,” Lu said. “He has a really strong [technical] foundation. We really need him to show [beginners] how to fence and practice.”

The case for hiring Puscas is a good one. Not only has he boosted the reputation of Ryerson fencing, but he also has coaching experience with Bladeworks, a private fencing club in Toronto.

Though Bladeworks has been around since 1999, the club only had a handful of students. In just six months of coaching, Puscas and fellow coach Nik Lavorato brought in about 50 students and have had impressive results.

One of those pupils is Ryerson varsity sabre fencer Chacho Rodriguez, who recently won gold alongside Puscas at the RMC Invitational Tournament this fall. The master’s student in aerospace engineering is the poster boy for what Lu and Puscas are trying to create at Ryerson: students that started fencing casually but bloomed into high-level fencers after falling in love with the sport.

“I started fencing in 2006 in the beginners program. I love it and never looked back,” said Rodriguez. “I go to about four clubs a week now.”

Puscas and Lu are interested in training Ryerson’s fencers with the Bladeworks fencers so that both clubs can get more experience than they otherwise would. It would be a partnership similar to the one the rowing team had with head coach Dominic Kahn’s Bayside Rowing Club. Every member of the team was required to join Bayside to compete for Ryerson.

Rodriguez thinks combined training sessions are a great idea.

“Clubs tend to focus on developing a few talented individuals, but I was really impressed by their approach to growing the sport as a whole,” he said. “I like [training with Bladeworks] because fencers really need different fencers to compete against to get better. Right now we only practice against each other and we don’t have that many people,” added Lu.

The fencing team is also planning to host tournaments once Maple Leaf Gardens is finished. They are hoping it will boost the profile of the team and get students interested in the club.

Athletics Director Ivan Joseph is supportive of the idea of hosting tournaments at Maple Leaf Gardens.

“I can’t see why that couldn’t happen. That facility, if we’re doing it right, will be hopping all the time. It’s a community facility. We want it brimming with activity,” he said.

Until Maple Leaf Gardens is completed in March, all Puscas can do is wait.

“I’m ready to do whatever it takes. U of T does quite well; I can’t see why we can’t do that at Ryerson,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential.”

Photo: Horia Puscas

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