NEW HAVEN, CONN. -- Powered by an outstanding sabre squad which captured 24 of 27 bouts, Columbia women's fencers moved into a tie with Princeton for first place after the first day of the Ivy League Round-Robin Championships at Yale's Coxe Cage.
The men's team was right behind, in third place in the men's standings with a 1-1 record after dropping a 15-12 squeaker to Penn.
The women, who have not won an Ivy League title since 2008, but have three consecutive second-place finishes, opened the day with a 23-4 defeat of Brown, followed by a 21-6 win over Cornell.
In a battle of two of the Ivy League's best women's squads, the Lions took a 7-2 lead over Penn after the first round of their three-round match and seemed to be in command, only to see the Quakers rally.
In the second round, Columbia dropped two of three in sabre, one of three in foil, and all three epee bouts. With just one round to go, Penn had drawn to within two points, 10 to 8. A day filled with drama, punctuated with loud cries of success and failure echoing through the vast facility, had come down to the wire. The nine bouts of the third round would make the difference.
So Loweye Diedro and her twin sister Essane stepped up, posting 5-1 wins in sabre to give the Lions some breathing room at 12-8. Co-captain Sammy Roberts lost her bout, 5-2, as Penn closed to 12-9.
Right from the start, things weren't going well in foil (the Quakers ended up sweeping Columbia in the round). For the Lions to win, epee was going to have to come through.
"We were nervous," junior Lydia Kopecky admitted. "We wanted to do better after our second round."
The epeeists gave themselves a goal -- win two of the three bouts to clinch the win.
"We told ourselves we had to win two of the three," Kopecky continued. "We would have to fight harder than we had fought all day. But we were ready."
Diana Tsinis, one of the Lions' many first-years, dug down and defeated Penn sophomore Lisa Dawes, 5-2. Sophomore Katya English, who had not fenced at all in the Penn match, was then inserted by head coach Michael Aufrichtig. English faced tough going from Penn sophomore Gaby Foor, but persevered. She hit her stride in winning the clinching 5-2 decision.
First-year Natalie Gegan lost the final epee bout, 5-1 to Amrit Bhinder, but her team had already captured the win by a 15-12 score, giving them a share of first place with Princeton.

Aufrichtig brought five women's epeeists to New Haven, and used them all in the Penn match. Tsinis was 2-1, Kopecky and first-year Emma Peterson were 1-1, English was 1-0, and Gegan 0-1.
"It's great having five people on the epee team," Kopecky noted. "With five, there's always options. The Ivy League is really strong in epee, and having all those options takes the stress off all of us. In my first two years, there were just three of us. We HAD to fence every bout."

The Penn match, as well as the Brown and Cornell tilts earlier, prepared Columbia well for its tests against Princeton, Harvard and Yale Sunday.
"Today was really good practice for us," Kopecky said. "We stepped it up today in order to be able to step it up tomorrow."
Like their women's counterparts, the Columbia men also went into the final round with a 10-8 record. But this time, it was Penn that held the advantage.
"We knew we could [still win the bout]," sabre fencer Mel Rodriguez recalled. "We were all capable of winning."
But first-year Michael Josephs, Columbia's top sabre winner this season, lost a 5-2 decision to Michael Mills, and Rodriguez lost to Sean Turner, also by 5-3. The sabre men fought back, as first-year Will Spear, who had lost just once all day, beat All-Ivy Leaguer Evan Prochniak, 5-1.
"Even after my bout, I still had faith that we could win it," Rodriguez said. "We all did. Everyone on the team cheered every single bout, every single touch."
Penn won only one of three foil bouts in that round, as sophomores Alex Pensler and Bo Charles were victorious, but the Quakers took two of three epee bouts to snare a 15-12 victory.
Like Lydia Kopecky, Rodriguez, too, saw the bout as good preparation for Sunday's fencing.
"We fought on every single touch," he said. "We're going to bring that same intensity to Sunday's matches."
Columbia's teams will fence three matches Sunday. They'll face Harvard at 10 a.m., Princeton at 11:30 a.m., and Yale at 1:45 p.m.
Today's results:

Ivy League Round-Robin Championships
Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 (Day One)
Coxe Cage, New Haven, Conn.

MEN'S TEAM (1-1)

Columbia 19, Brown 8
S: Spear 3-0, Rodriguez 2-1, Josephs 2-1 (7-2 combined)
F: Charles 3-0, Pensler 2-1, Tuddenham 1-2 (6-3)
E: Hadzic 2-1, Tapai 2-1, Leahy 2-1 (6-3)

Penn 15, Columbia 12
S: Spear 2-1, Rodriguez 1-2, Josephs 1-2 (4-5)
F: Charles 1-2, Pensler 2-1, Tuddenham 0-3 (3-6)
E: Hadzic 2-1, Leahy 1-2, Ferguson 2-1 (5-4)


Columbia 23,  Brown 4
S: Roberts 3-0, E. Diedro 3-0, L Diedro 3-0 (9-0)
F: Hohensee 3-0, Homer 2-1, Caparros-Janto 2-1 (7-2)
E: Kopecky 2-0, Tsinis 2-0, Peterson 1-0, Gegan 1-0, English 1-2 (7-2)

Columbia 21, Cornell 6
S: Roberts 3-0, E. Diedro 3-0, L. Diedro 3-0 (9-0)
F: Caparros-Janto 2-1, Hohensee 1-2, Homer 1-2 (4-5)
E: Kopecky 1-1, Tsinis 1-0, Gegan 2-0, Peterson 3-0, English 1-0 (8-1)

Columbia 15, Penn 12
S: Roberts 2-1, E. Diedro 2-1, L. Diedro 2-1 (6-3)
F: Homer 2-1, Caparros-Janto 2-1, Hohensee 0-3 (4-5)
E: Kopecky 1-1, Tsinis 2-1, Peterson 1-1, English 1-0, Gegan 0-1 (5-4)