Fencing: Cheng and Zerbe win individual titles as Lowell clinches team championship

By Mike Bebernes

Lowell High School rode a championship performance by Alex Cheng in the boys bracket and a second place finish by Melissa Louie in the girls bracket to capture the team championship in the CIF-San Francisco Section All-City fencing tournament Saturday at Washington High School.

Lowell's Alex Cheng (right) and Nick Prey (left) of University battle in the CIF-San Francisco Section Final on Saturday at Washington High School. (Photo by AJ Canaria)

It was the second straight city championship for the Cardinals and their fourth win in five years.

“It feels great,” said Lowell coach Scott Cunningham. “We’ve brought [the championship] home several times, but it’s always nice to be successful. I’m proud of the guys.  They fenced very well. We have a really strong team.”

The title is awarded based on overall combined performance of both boy’s and girl’s teams in the tournament and league play.

Lowell finished with 48 points. University finished second with 36. Stuart Hall and Convent tied for third with 23 points each.

The Cardinal boys team won the league regular season and the girls team finished second to Convent in league play.

Lowell had seven total players in the tournament, including two of the top three boys finishers and two of the top four girls.

The top eight boys and girls in the tournament will move on to compete in the All-State Invitational on May 15 at Lowell High School.

Boys Championship

Lowell sophomore Alex Cheng won his second consecutive city title with a 14-13 win in a spectacular match against friend and rival Nick Prey of University.

Cheng and Prey are members of the same club team and face each other on a regular basis.

“I faced [Prey] last year in the finals,” said Cheng. “I usually have trouble with him. I knew if I made the final, it was going to be Nick Prey and it was going to be tough.”

“We fence a lot. It’s usually very close,” said Prey.

The two entered the tournament in a tie for the top seed. Each cruised through the preliminary rounds, dominating their early opponents.

Cheng defeated Lowell teammate and third-place-finisher Walter Pan 15-7 in the and Prey beat Balboa’s Colin Fong 15-6 to set up their seemingly inevitable final matchup.

In the finals, Cheng jumped out to an early 4-1 lead with an aggressive attacking style. Prey, who is the taller of the two by a large margin, kept Cheng at a distance with his reach advantage. The strategy proved effective as a defense, but also made it difficult for Prey to score.

“In the beginning my distance was off,” said Prey. “He was crowding me and hitting me close and I couldn’t do anything about it.”

The match, which is won by the first to score 15 points or whomever has the most points after three 3 minute periods, seemed to be well under the control of Cheng as his short-range style helped him build a commanding 13-5 lead entering the final third period.

The roles changed as a desperate Prey became the aggressor and Cheng became defensive, intending to stall until time ran out.

“A lot of times when I’m up ahead, I relax a little bit and I know I shouldn’t,” said Cheng.

The attacking Prey strung together a series touches, going on an 8-1 run to close the gap. Prey scored a touch to bring the score to 14-13 with just 2 seconds remaining on the clock.

Prey made one last lunging attempt to tie the score, but Cheng parried his attack to as time expired to win the championship.

Girls Championship

University’s Amanda Zerbe needed a late rally to defeat Lowell’s Melissa Louie 15-12 to win the city championship.

The top seeded Zerbe faced little opposition en route to the final match, never allowing an opponent to score more than 8 touches in the first four rounds.

She defeated third place finisher Amrit Khalsa of Urban 15-6 to reach the final.  Third seed Louie beat her Lowell teammate, second seed Jayne Stewart, 15-7 in the semifinals.

The underdog Louie took an early lead in the match, as both girls were aggressive from the start.

The girls traded touches over the next few minutes. Zerbe was able to close her deficit to just one point multiple times, but Louie continued to answer, building an 11-8 lead.

“I figured out that I had to change my game,” said Zerbe. “I realized that it was really simple and I could mix it up and that would throw her off.”

Zerbe’s strategy change turned out to be a winning. She outscored her opponent 7-1 over the last 8 touches to close out the match.

“In the end, bouts are always decided by who wants to win more,” said Zerbe. “I think I just wanted it more badly. “

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One Comment

  1. John Zlatunich says:

    Mike, great article for your first on Fencing! Thanks to you and San Fran Preps for covering our championship and giving some skilled athletes in one of our AAA/CIF SF Section non-mainstream sports some “props”. Keep up the good work!

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