Fencers Find Going Tough Against Best in the Nation in St. John's Super Cup
Courtesy: Columbia University Athletics/Gene Boyars
JAMAICA, N.Y. -- Columbia went into Saturday's St. John's Super Cup sporting rankings in the nation's Top 10. Unfortunately, so did every team the Lions faced in the seven-hour competition.
Once again, the Columbia women led the way, defeating squads from Ohio State, St. John's, and Harvard, but suffering their first two loses of the season, to Penn State and Notre Dame. The Lion men fought hard, but went winless against all five opponents.
The men didn't win any, but they sure contested some. They lost a 14-13 squeaker to defending NCAA champion Ohio State, as the Lion sabre team went 6-3, fell to the host St. John's by 15-12, despite a 7-2 mark by men's epee, and lost to both Penn State and Notre Dame by 16-11 scores.
Epee paced the Columbia effort, winning 26 of 45 bouts. Both junior All-American Alen Hadzic, NCAA runner-up last season, and first-year Justin Wan posted 3-0 records, Hadzic and first-year Brian Ro going 8-4 on the day. Yet another first-year, Adam Mathieu, was also 3-0, against Penn State.
Ro came on very strongly for the Lion epeeists, winning two of three in each of the last two matches, against Notre Dame and Penn State.   
In the Notre Dame contest, Ro defeated senior Jack Piasio in the first round, 5-4. In the third, he beat first-year Garrett McGrath, a member of the U.S. Junior World Team, 5-3. In between those two, he nearly had a real stunner.
He came up against U.S. international James Kaull, a senior with great credentials. And indeed, Kaull jumped out to a 3-1 lead. Epee bouts have time limits, and one was fast approaching for Ro and Kaull.
The Lion newcomer feinted and fought, looking for an opening. Suddenly he struck, scoring a touch with just 20 seconds remaining, and another with only six seconds left. The latter shocked Kaull, and threw the bout  into overtime. But Ro couldn't sustain his momentum, as Kaull scored in the OT for a 4-3 Notre Dame victory.
"I've been pretty successful fencing Kaull in the past," Ro said. "But in overtime, my last attack was bad technique." McGrath was no stranger to the first-year from New York's Westchester County. "I had fenced him before in a North American Cup," Brian noted. "He defeated me, 5-0. I was excited to fence him today."    
Although Ro said he was "pretty happy" with his fencing at St. John's, he admitted that the tournament "mentally took a lot out of me."
"In college fencing, you're not just fencing for yourself, but for your team. You're always cheering for the team. We have a lot of team chemistry."  
The women's team also had a host of close matches, but won more than the men. They topped Harvard, 14-13 in a non-league contest; Ohio State, 15-12; and fell to Penn State by the same score. They opened the day with a resounding 18-9 decision over St. John's, and closed it in a 20-7 loss to Notre Dame.
Senior All-American Lydia Kopecky went 10-5 in epee, but had to fight fiercely to secure that record. Of her 11 bouts that went to 4-4, she won nine. She was a perfect 3-0 against St. John's and Ohio State.
First-year foilist Margaret Lu posted 3-0 marks against St. John's, Ohio State and Penn State. She just missed another in her final bout of the day, a 4-3 loss to Notre Dame on a hotly-disputed call, finishing with an 11-1 record.
A national AND international standout, Lu thoroughly enjoyed her introduction to top-level college fencing.
"Coach Aufrichtig [promotes] team unity, and we've got it. College fencing is fun because you're fencing for your team. We're all cheering for each other. This is the first real team I've fenced on."
Lu admitted, however, that there was nothing easy about the college sport.
"This is one of the most taxing fencing competitions I've been in," she said. "In college fencing, the bouts are spread out. It's difficult to keep warm and sharp [between bouts]."
Lu likened the long, grueling St. John's Super Cup to the NCAA Championships. "It's designed to be like the NCAA's, I think. There were no pushovers here today."
Coach Michael Aufrichtig discounted much of his team's struggling. "I think we'll do better tomorrow; there were a lot of close matches and bouts today. And we had some great performances. Margaret Lu, for instance, defeated Harvard's Alexandra Kiefer, an NCAA champion."
"I think the men will come back, too, on Sunday."
Columbia will do it all again tomorrow, at the NYU Invitational with Ohio State, Notre Dame and St. John's from today's competition, plus Northwestern, Wayne State, and North Carolina. It begins at 8 a.m.
The results:

St. John's Super Cup
Carnesecca Arena and Taffner Field House
Saturday, January 26, 2013

Men's Fencing (0-5)

12-15 St. John's, 9-18 Harvard, 13-14 Ohio State, 11-16 Penn State, 11-16 Notre Dame
Leaders: Alen Hadzic (E), 8-4; Brian Ro (E), 8-4; Justin Wan (E), 6-4

Women's Fencing (3-2)
18-9 St. John's, 14-13 Harvard, 15-12 Ohio State, 12-15 Penn State, 7-20 Notre Dame
Leaders: Margaret Lu (F), 11-1; Jackie Dubrovich (F), 10-1; Lydia Kopecky (E), 10-5; Loweye Diedro (S), 9-4