OUEENS, N.Y. -- Paced by foilist Jackie Dubrovich, who captured every single one of her 23 bouts, the Columbia fencing team turned in a superb showing at the NCAA Northeast Regionals, earning 11 of a possible 12 bids to the 2013 NCAA Championships.
Fighting their way through the grueling 11-hour tournament, at St. John's University, the Lions gained all six qualifying spots in the women's competition, and five of the six men's slots.
Remarkably, they accomplished the feat largely without the services of four of their best competitors. Two, Olympian Nzingha Prescod and Margaret Lu, were in Germany, competing in a Foil World Cup that they had to attend in order to preserve their chances of making the United States National Team.
Senior epeeist Lydia Kopecky, one of Columbia's favorites to gain an NCAA berth, had an uncharacteristically poor day at the Regionals, and was eliminated from contention, ending her college career. Men's epeeist Alen Hadzic, a 2012 All-America, as was Kopecky, was "excluded" from the Regionals for disputing a referee's decision in Round One, the exclusion depriving him of a berth in the nationals.
In some weapons, though, they were barely missed.
Fencing without Lu, her freshman teammate, Dubrovich cut a swath through the women's foil field at the Regional, which included fencers from colleges in New York State and New England.
She went 6-0 in Round One, shutting out five of her six opponents. She was 6-0 again in Round Two, and then 11-0 in the final round. She so dominated that round, made up of the 12 best in the weapon, whittled down from an original pool of more than 30, that she went to 5-4 only twice, over ex-NCAA champion Alex Kiefer of Harvard and Marta Hausman of St. John's.
Dubrovich was joined in qualifying by senior D'Meca Homer, who built up a solid 9-3 record in the first two rounds, and held on to gain 10th place and her third consecutive trip to the NCAA's.
Two senior classmates will join her at the NCAA's, which will be held March 21-24 in San Antonio, Loweye Diedro and her twin sister Essane.
Loweye Diedro nearly matched Dubrovich's spotless record. She won five of six bouts in her first round, went 6-0 in her second, and was 10-1 in the final round, giving her a gaudy 21-2 record.
Included in that 6-0 second round was a 5-4 victory over her sister and a 5-3 defeat of St. John's All-American Anna Limbach. She also defeated Limbach in the third round, 5-4.
Essane Diedro found the going a bit harder. Seeded fourth, she finished eighth, going 5-1 in her first round and 3-3 in the second. Although she lost seven of 11 in the final round, she hung on to gain the berth.
When the sisters take the strips in San Antonio, it will be the first time they are at an NCAA championship together. Loweye made it as a sophomore in 2011, and Essane earned a berth in 2012.
Women's epee's road to the NCAA featured a come-from-behind campaign by sophomore Diana Tsinis.
Seeded just 20th, the lowest of any Lion women's epeeist, Tsinis had to qualify for the regular competition by fencing in Round One, sort of a "play-in" round. She went 3-1 there to advance to Round Two.
Tsinis was undefeated (6-0) in that round, piling up an impressive +20 indicators (margins of victory). Her Round Three could have been better; she was 3-3, but lost three 5-4 bouts. Finally, she closed out Women's Epee with a 7-4 mark in Round Four, finishing third with a 19-8 mark.
Fellow sophomore Natalie Gegan will join her in San Antonio after placing 10th in epee. She won three bouts in each of her last three rounds.
Men's epee overcame Alen Hadzic's loss to qualify three, all first-years. Brian Ro, fresh off making first team All-Ivy League last week, kept his hot hand; he went 4-2 in Round Two, 6-0 in Round Three, and 9-2 in the intense final round. Ro's 19-4 record earned him first place.
He'll be joined in San Antonio by Justin Wan, who went 17-6 to finish second. Jake Hoyle also qualified when he placed ninth with a 13-10 record; NCAA rules, however, limit each school to no more than two fencers per weapon, no matter how many qualify.
It was much the same in men's sabre, where the Lions also qualified three.
Sophomores Will Spear and Michael Josephs will each make their second trip to the NCAA's.
Spear, 7-4 going into the final round, won seven of 11 in the round, including a 5-3 victory over Daryl Homer of St. John's, a two-time NCAA champion (and D'Meca's brother). Josephs was 18-5 on the day, 11-1 after his first two rounds. He finished fifth, behind Spear's third.
Freshman Geoffrey Loss also qualified by finishing ninth, but will stay home due to the NCAA limit. Loss was 15-8.
It appeared that junior foilist Alex Pensler would be on his way to the NCAA's after going 5-1 in the first round, but he was 0-6 in Round Three and finished only 20th. Freshman Adam Mathieu stepped into the breach when he qualified with a ninth-place finish. Freshman Harry Bergman narrowly missed qualifying, finishing 13th.
The fencers now await the decisions of the NCAA Fencing Committee, which must consider whether to accept both the placing of the normal qualifiers, and rule on which at-large bids, from regionals throughout the nation, it will accept. The Committee rulings are anticipated on Tuesday; NCAA bids hinge on their decisions.