WEST WINDSOR: Athlete of the Week

Confident Guo moves forward

By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
   Alex Guo was already an accomplished fencer last year for the West Windsor-Plainsboro South boys team.
   This year, though, the Pirates senior has improved himself mentally as well as physically to become an even better fencer.
   ”I feel like where Alex has changed the most is he’s become more comfortable as a competitor,” said Pirates head coach Ed Chang. “It looks and feels as though there was a great burden lifted from last year. He’s been more comfortable as a competitor this year. He’s stepped up to everything that he’s come up against.”
   It started when Guo dominated his opponents to help the Pirates sabre squad win the Cetrulo Tournament in January. He scored nearly double the points of his opponents at the highly competitive meet.
   Guo and junior teammate Steven Yang each went 3-0 to lead the sabre squad to an 8-1 edge that propelled the Pirates to a 17-10 win over West Windsor-Plainsboro North last Thursday. With the win, WW-P South improved to 5-1, with its only loss coming without the services of Guo and Yang, who were fencing in a North American Cup event.
   The promising start set Guo up as one of the favorites for the District 2 meet, where the Pirates sabre squad was the defending champion. Guo lost only once in capturing his first individual district title Saturday. His loss came to Yang in the final pool in a rare meeting between the two in an official competition.
   ”We do get to train a lot together,” Guo said. “We fence each other at least once a day in practice. In big competitions, the rules are set so you aren’t up against your own teammate. Since we were scrunched into that small pool, it was inevitable.”
   Guo was unbeatable otherwise, and he, Yang, Howard Chen and Jerry Xu repeated as district sabre squad champions as well. The Pirates were second overall to qualify as one of 16 teams for the state championship. It is their first time qualifying in program history.
   Alex Guo is the Princeton Packet Athlete of the Week.
   ”Going in, people were asking me if I expected to win,” Guo said. “Really what I did, I did the same thing I do when I go to every tournament. I go and fence. When I was about done with the pool, I realized I had a bunch of wins, more than my opponents.”
   That’s been happening a lot this season. Guo has yet to lose in a dual meet, though he had some close calls against WW-P North. The dual meet was a perfect stepping stone going into the district competition.
   ”It’s always great to fence North,” Chang said. “On top of the competition itself, there’s also the cross-town rivalry, like the Subway Series. There’s a lot of energy there. We got to see what we’re going up against. We knew we’d have a certain amount of success, particularly with our sabre team, though their sabre team placed second at districts. It was a gauge to see where the other teams might fall.”
   Chang had a good sense of what Guo could do this season, and the senior has lived up to the lofty expectations. Capturing the gold medal at the districts was the next big high school competition for Guo, who has been fencing since he was 10.
   ”It does take experience to perform consistently,” he said. “It’s not easy.”In some ways,” he added, “the more you fence, the easier it gets because you have more experience. But the level of competition also goes up.”
   Guo gets plenty of competition every day in practice. In Yang, he has a worthy adversary with a style that contrasts his own.
   ”Alex is very physical,” Chang said. “He’s quick and he’s long and he uses his body to dominate the strip. Steven is very cerebral and very calculating. His actions are grand and explosive, but he gets the touches off. You can see every step of the way. He competes with precision.”
   One year older, Guo is the slightly more consistent of the two. It paid off at districts when opposing fencers tried a little of everything against him, including what Guo calls “unorthodox moves” that could throw off a less experienced fencer.
   ”Last year,” Guo said, “I was getting caught by some of those moves. I definitely have a lot more mental focus this year.”
   Added Chang: “This year, he seems far more relaxed. There may be more pressure because he’s a senior, but he seems more comfortable and relaxed.”
   Guo hasn’t felt the pressure to perform as much because he doesn’t focus on individual accomplishments. He didn’t even know that the sabre squad had repeated as champions until after they were done.
   ”We didn’t want to be distracted by it and worry about winning instead of fencing,” he explained.
   One of Guo’s big focuses is to ensure that the winning continues after he and Chen graduate from the sabre squad. He has the ability to influence it in his leadership role as a squad leader.
   ”My goal is to teach my junior varsity so I can help them stay cool in competition and know how they can win,” Guo said. “I want to teach my junior varsity so they can carry it on. I’m teaching lessons from my old coach. I’m trying to take drills and apply them.”
   While Guo admits he doesn’t know as much as a professional fencing trainer, he is acting the part of the veteran leader, who continues to meet every expectation.
   Said Guo: “I’m trying to stay calm, cool and collected.”