All three events served to boost the morale of the Columbia team, which had been lowered following Saturday’s fencing, in which the Lions, after leading the NCAA Championships for two days, fell to third place. But the Lions rebounded Sunday, scoring 37 victories for a total of 169, enough to hold off fourth-place Notre Dame and gain on second-place St. John’s, which had 176. Penn State netted 194 victories to win the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2002.
“[The third-place trophy] is our first trophy in nine years,” head coach George Kolombatovich said. “In some ways I’m still disappointed, but in some ways I’m feeling really wonderful. We brought 12 fencers to the NCAA Championships, and we returned with nine All-Americans! But the best part is that every one of our fencers gave their all. They gave everything they had!”
The improved fourth-day showing gained three women’s All-Americans for Columbia, including senior foilist Cassidy Luitjen, who finished eighth to make second team All-American, and two first team All-Americans, Jacobson and Schneider.
Placing well and making first team All-American were old hat for Jacobson. The junior from Atlanta had won the NCAA Championship in 2005, her first season at Columbia, and then finished second as a sophomore. But it was a new thing for Schneider, who had qualified for the 2006 NCAA Championships, but did not make the trip due to the limit of two fencers per weapon — Columbia was represented by Jacobson and then-senior Emma Baratta.
Coming into the nationals, Schneider wasn’t even thinking of individual fencing glory. “I was thinking of winning as many bouts as I could for our team,” she recalled. “I wasn’t even thinking of the individuals.”
But she went 11-3 the first day, as did Jacobson, and then a superb 8-1 the final day to finish with 19 victories in 23 bouts, second-best among all women’s foilists behind Caitlin Thompson of Penn State, who was 20-3. Notre Dame’s Valerie Providenza matched Schneider with 19 victories, and Jacobson snared the last semifinal spot when her 17-6 record edged two St. John’s fencers, Dagmara Wozniak and Olga Ovtchinnikova, who had 16 each.
Thompson was seeded first (by won-lost record), and Providenza second. Schneider was third and Jacobson fourth, setting up Thompson-Jacobson and Providenza-Schneider semifinal bouts.
Jacobson had beaten Thompson in Saturday’s bout, 5-3, but the Penn State star was not to be denied on Sunday. She broke a 4-4 tie in the 15-touch semifinal bout with three straight touches, and Emily was unable to catch up.
Trailing 8-5 at the rest break, Jacobson scored a touch to come within 8-6. Thompson then netted six straight touches, taking a 14-6 lead. Jacobson staved off defeat with one touch for a 14-7 score, but Caitlin then hit the winner to triumph, 15-7, and advance to the championship match.
Schneider was having just as much difficulty with Providenza.
“Valerie is very hard for me to fence,” Daria said. “She is very tall, and I’m only 5-4 1/2. She can outreach me, so every touch is really important.”
Providenza puled away at the midpoint of the match, opening up a 10-8 lead. Schneider came back with three straight for an 11-10 lead, only to see Providenza score to tie it at 11-11, and then score two more touches for a 13-11 led. She seemed to have the momentum — at least, until the Lion fencer scored two touches of her own for a 13-13 tie.
Providenza went ahead again, 14-13, one touch away from victory. Schneider then tied it again at 14-all. As she had been doing most of the match, Daria attacked. As their weapons flashed, both fencers let out a yell — and then the official indicated a point for Schneider, sending her to the final.
“I scored nine or 10 points on attack and preparation,” she explained. “I tried to stick with that. You keep doing it, even if it’s not working.”
Columbia’s athletes and fans had let out a cheer when Schneider won, but her mind was already on Caitlin Thompson.
“As soon as I beat Valerie, I started thinking about Caity, about my bout with her yesterday (a 5-1 loss), and about Emily.” Jacobson had suffered a 15-7 loss in the semifinals but had defeated Thompson in Saturday’s five-touch bout, 5-3. Some fencers don’t plan for a bout in advance, but not Schneider.
“Daria fences so smart, so creatively,” men’s sabre fencer Alex Krul said. “She plans out what she wants to do. I always expect her to beat everyone.” In addition to thinking about the upcoming match, Schneider sought out her teammates to talk about non-fencing matters, “to get my mind off the upcoming bout.”
First she watched Jacobson edge Providenza, 15-13, for third place. Then she took the strip against Thompson.
The first touches were scored by each fencer. Schneider took a 2-1 lead, then Thompson got three for a 4-2 lead. Daria came back with two to tie the bout at 4-4. Thompson hit another for a 5-4 lead. There was no apparent significance to the point, but it proved the last time the Nittany Lion would lead.
Down 5-4, Schneider began to figure Thompson’s plan out. “Caity really likes to stay in the middle of the strip. I really had to pull her out of center. I was moving a lot; when you’re confident and moving well, you make sure your feet are under you, ready to move in any direction.”
Daria got a touch, and another. Then two more, for an 8-5 lead heading into the break. After the recess, Thompson fought back, though much of her “fight” consisted of remaining almost stationery and letting Schneider come to her.
Often, she would score as Schneider attacked, More often, though, the Lion would get the touch, often so quick that Thompson barely had time to react.
“I think I’m faster than Caity,” Daria said. “I think I do everything faster.”
Schneider opened up a 9-6 margin, only to see Thompson narrow it to 9-7. Daria went up again, 10-7, then allowed two touches, as Thompson came within one, 10-9. The Penn State team roared.
They would have little more to roar about, though. In machine-gun succession, Schneider hit one touch, then another, then a third. Up by four at 13-9, she could take a touch, but then score another.
When Daria scored to make it 14-10, the crowd suddenly grew silent, at least the Penn State portion of it. Schneider would need only one more to win, they realized, while Thompson would have to get five touches, almost impossible on this level. She netted one, to close within 14-11, only to see Schneider strike on the next move, for a 15-11 championship victory.
As the crowd roared, the Columbia team climbed into the fencing enclosure, “the corral” as it’s known, and mobbed Schneider. They then hoisted her above their shoulders and flung her skyward three or four times.
Off to the side, several people exulted. Schneider’s Columbia coaches, of course, Kolombatovich, Dr. Aladar Kogler, and former NCAA foil champion Jed Dupree, a Columbia graduate assistant. Kolombatovich and Schneider’s coach, Yuri Gelman, who also coaches St. John’s, embraced.
But no one exulted more than Schneider’s parents, Eric Schneider and Ellen Meltzer. Daria’s father, an alumnus of the Columbia School of General Studies who is a professor of public health at Harvard — her mother graduated from Barnard — turned to Kolombatovich with a wide smile on his face.
“It’s my birthday today,” Eric Schneider said. “That’s the best birthday present I ever got.”
NCAA Fencing Championships
March 25, 2007
Drew University, Madison, N.J.
Final Team Standings
1. Penn State, 194 victories
2. St. John’s, 176
3. COLUMBIA, 169
4. Notre Dame, 160
5. Ohio State, 144
6. Harvard, 123
7. Penn, 104
8. Wayne State, 76
9. Stanford, 67
10. Princeton, 64
11. Northwestern, 51
12. Rutgers, 46
13. North Carolina, 31
14. Yale, 30
15. Temple, 29
16. Air Force, 27
17. Duke, 22
18. Brandeis, 19
19. Brown and NYU, 14
21. UC San Diego, 13
22. Cal State Fullerton, 12
23. Johns Hopkins, 11
24. Cornell, 10
25. Drew and MIT, 9
27. Detroit Mercy, 8
28. Boston College, 4
5. Dagmara Wozniak, St. John’s, 16
6. Olga Ovtchinnikova, St. John’s
7. Eileen Grench, Ohio State, 15
8. Sophia Hiss, Penn State, 15
9. Siobhan Byrne, Ohio State, 13
10. Eva Jellison, Stanford, 13
11. Alexa Weingarden, Harvard, 13
12. Randy Alevi, Brown, 10
13. Alexandra Heiss, Cornell, 10
14. Alexis Baran, Penn, 9
15. Jennifer Sawicki, North Carolina, 9
1. Doris Willette, Penn State, 22*
2. Monika Golebiewski, St. John’s, 19*
3. Adrienne Nott, Notre Dame, 18*
4. Tamara Najm, Penn State, 18*
5. Julia Tichonova, Ohio State, 16
6. Abby Emerson, Penn, 14
7. Smantha Nemecek, Northwestern, 13
8. Cassidy Luitjen, COLUMBIA, 13
9. Melissa Parker, Temple, 12
10. Misha Goldfeder, Harvard, 11
11. Katia Larchanka, St. John’s, 11
12. Jocelyn Svengsouk, Princeton, 11
13. Ilana Sinkin, Penn, 11
14. Emilie Prot, Notre Dame, 11
15. Sara Jew-Lim, Princeton, 11
20. Kathleen Reckling, COLUMBIA, 8
1. Anna Garina, Wayne State, 21*
2. Kelley Hurley, Notre Dame, 18*
3. Reka Szelle, St. John’s, 17*
4. Anastasia Ferdman, Penn State, 16*
5. Tanya Novakovska, St. John’s, 15
6. Christa French, Northwestern, 15
7. Catherine Szarwark, Penn State, 14
8. Jasmine McGlade, Harvard, 14
9. Justyna Konczalska, Wayne State, 13
10. Alexandra Obrazcova, Ohio State, 12
11. Maria Larsson, Harvard, 11
12. Danielle Henderson, Rutgers, 11
13. Erin McGarry, Princeton, 11
14. Kayley French, Northwestern, 10
15. Anne Kercsmar, Duke, 10
16. Alexie Rubin, COLUMBIA, 10
18. Tess Finkel, COLUMBIA, 9
*semifinal and final victories not included