Hunter Fencer Heads to National Championship Meet

April 13, 2011 | Hunter College

Hunter fencing star Stella Shifrin will compete this weekend in one of the major events of her sport, the U.S. Fencing Association’s Senior National Championship—a meet limited to the 50 best fencers in the United States.

Shifrin is the first Hunter fencer to qualify for this competition in “at least 20 years,” says Patrick Durkan, Hunter’s head fencing coach, who called the tournament “an Olympic qualifier and a much stronger meet than those for the NCAA.” The event will take place April 15-18 in Portland, Oregon.

In fencing, a “senior” is a player over 18. Shifrin, 22, has qualified for the Portland tournament through a long list of wins and top placements. She has qualified for Northeastern regionals throughout her four-year fencing career at Hunter, has won the Eastern Women’s Fencing Conference tournament, has competed at two North American Cup tournaments, and was named the EWFC Sabre Fencer of the Year twice.

A competitive fencer, she explains, may use one of three weapons—a foil, an epee, or a sabre—and she wields the most dangerous, the sabre. Contrary to many people’s view of the sport, she says, “fencers can be injured, especially if they use the sabre,” and she has been wounded several times, but, she adds, “Hunter doesn’t give up,” and she has played on despite injuries.

Unlike most competitive fencers, who usually start when they are about six years old or even younger, Shifrin first took up the sport when she came to Hunter in 2007. “I thought fencing was only something people did in movies,” she says, “but when I heard about the sport here, I thought, ‘Wow, you fight with swords, that’s cool!’“

She picked up the basics of fencing fairly quickly, she recalls, partly because she had always been athletic—she played volleyball and badminton for years and  “I’m an avid lifter”—but also, surprisingly to the uninitiated, because she is a singer—and “as a singer you have to know your body.” Trained in voice and piano at the Mannes College of Music while she was also attending Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, she is still deeply involved with music.  Her majors at Hunter are music and political science, and her extracurricular activities include singing with a band that travels across the country.

Her non-Hunter pursuits also include fencing at outside clubs “where you get to play against very strong fencers.”

A member of the Thomas Hunter Honors Program, Shifrin plans to graduate this June and then spend a year “fencing and training a lot” while also studying for the LSAT. “Ever since junior high school,” she says, “I’ve wanted to be an entertainment lawyer, perhaps specializing in sports and music.”

“I’ve competed in vocal competitions for many years,” she continues, “and it’s always bothered me that many musicians have very little legal protection. I want to protect and help entertainers; I’m interested in fighting for them.”

Looking back on her Hunter career, Shifrin gives special thanks to Elise Quagliata, her music coach, and Durkan, the fencing coach, whom she calls “the best teachers I could ever have.” Moreover, she adds, she is “eternally grateful” to Hunter for being “the launching pad for my fencing career,” for helping students learn “how to cope in the real world,” for its diversity, “which adds so much depth to our college experience,” and for the warmth and supportiveness of her fellow students, especially those on the fencing team. “We genuinely care for each other,” she says. “We are a real family.”