SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS -- Two Ivy League standouts, freshman epeeist Brian Ro and sophomore sabre fencer Will Spear, paced five Columbia men's fencers on the first day of the 2013 NCAA Men's and Women's Fencing Championships, at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio.
Ro, who made first team All-Ivy League recently, blazed through the men's epee field at the NCAA's with 10 victories in 15 bouts, second in the 24-man field. Actually, his 10 victories tied him with four others, two Princeton epeeists, and one each from Duke and Penn, but he was placed second on a plus-21 margin in indicators, the total of margins of victory in individual bouts. Ro's 21 indicators led all epeeists.
Ro trailed only Peregrine Badger of Harvard, by just one bout -- Badger had 11 wins in 15 bouts.
Spear, another All-Ivy honoree, stood in fourth place in men's sabre after Day One, trailing Daryl Homer of St. John's, with 14 victories, Adrian Bak of Penn State, 13, and Michael Mills of Penn, 12. Spear was tied with Shaul Gordon, also from Penn State, with 10 victories in 15 bouts each, but led him in indicators,19-10.
Had a few breaks gone their their way, the three other Columbia fencers competing Thursday could have been right up there with Ro and Spear.
Both sophomore Michael Josephs, 15th in men's sabre, with a 7-8 record, and freshman Justin Wan, 20th in men's epee with a 5-10 record, lost five 5-4 bouts. Freshman Adam Mathieu was 13th in men's foil, also with a 7-8 mark, but lost three close bouts.
"This is supposed to be one of the strongest NCAA's in a long time," Mathieu noted. "There's just a lot of strong fencers in one place. They are all 5-touch bouts. They just keep coming, one right after the other."
Wan emphasized how tough the competition at this year's NCAA is. "Everybody," he said, "works so hard all year to be here."
In Wan's best bout, he said, "I got revenge on Vernon O'Garra of Penn State. The first two times I ever faced him, I lost badly. But today, I beat him 5-2. I did a lot better today."
Interestingly, Ro also counted a win over the towering O'Garra among his best. Trailing 2-0, he came back to tie at 3-3, then won a 4-3 decision.
Strangely, the day could not have begun worse for Ro. He went into overtime in his first two bouts, was fencing with priority both times, and yet lost both -- one to his own teammate, Justin Wan.
He was losing his third bout, against Penn State's Ben Russell, most of the way, but fought back to 3-3, sending it into overtime. This time, however, Ro defeated Russell, 4-3 in OT, and Brian was on his way. He lost just three more bouts all day, while winning nine more. One win came over Peregrine Badger of Harvard, the Day One leader in men's epee. Two others, vs. Michael Rossi of ND and Paul Riviere of Stanford, were 5-0 shutouts.
No wonder Ro could say, of the feared NCAA Championships, "It's not that stressful. It's fun."
It's been fun for head coach Michael Aufrichtig, watching Ro develop into a top-level fencer.
"I've been watching Brian since he was in high school," the coach said. "I've seen him developing."
"He's very quick," the coach noted, "and has long arms, accentuated by using a French grip. I've seen over time how well he can cover distance, and how fast."
Nor is that all for the freshman from New York's Westchester County.
"Brian is very smart, and very patient."
Columbia's other high placer, sabre man Will Spear, had a superb day in taking 10 of 15 bouts. Among his notable victories were decisions over Robert Stone of Princeton (5-2), Eric Arzoian and Alexander Ryjik of Harvard, Sean Buckley of St. John's, Shaul Gordon of Penn State, and Cameron Lindsay of Stanford.
"Will is a natural talent," Aufrichtig said. "He has a real feel for the game. He has been training more, and has become faster and stronger."
Spear and Ro will lead their teammates into Day Two, which begins at 9:30 a.m. The final rounds will be completed, and the competition for individual honors. Women's fencing will be held Saturday and Sunday.
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day One)
Thursday, March 21, 20123
Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, Texas
1. Penn State, 63 points (wins); 2. Princeton, 51; 3. Harvard, 50; 4. Notre Dame, 50; 5. Stanford, 45; 6. Penn, 43; 7. Ohio State, 42; 8. St. John's, 39; 9. COLUMBIA, 39; 10. North Carolina, 18; 11. Brown, 15. 12. Yale, 15; 13. Sacred Heart, 14. NYU, 10; 15. Duke, 10; 16. Brandeis, 8; 17. UC San Diego, 8; 18. MIT, 8; 19. Wayne State, 6; 20. Air Force, 5; 21. Drew, 3
Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Daryl Homer, St. John's, 14
2. Adrian Bak, Penn State, 13
3. Michael Mills, Penn, 12
4. Will Spear, COLUMBIA, 10
5. Shaul Gordon, Notre Dame, 10
6. Max Stearns, Ohio State, 9
7. Kevin Hassett, Notre Dame, 9
8. Evan Prochniak, Penn, 9
9. Sam Austin, North Carolina, 8
10. Hugh O'Cinneide, Yale, 8
15. Michael Josephs, COLUMBIA, 7
1. Gerek Mainhardt, Notre Dame, 15
2. Michael Dudey, Princeton, 13
3. David Willette, Penn State, 12
4. Alex Massialas, Stanford, 12
5. Miles Chamley-Watson, Penn State, 11
6. Zain Shaito, Ohio State, 10
7. Michael Woo, Harvard, 9
8. Brian Kaneshige, Harvard, 9
9. Ariel DeSmet, Notre Dame, 9
10. Michael Caporizzi, St. John's, 8
13. Adam Mathieu, COLUMBIA, 7
1. Peregrine Badger, Harvard, 11
2. Brian Ro, COLUMBIA, 10
3. Jon Yergler, Princeton, 10
4. Edward Kelley, Princeton, 10
5. Dylan Nollner, Duke, 10
6. Ayyub Ibrahim, Penn, 10
7. Ben Russell, Penn State, 9
8. Marco Canevari. Ohio State, 9
9. Joseph Rafidi, MIT, 8
10. Vernon O'Garra, Penn State, 8
20. Justin Wan, COLUMBIA, 5