CHESTNUT HILL, MASS. -- In a strong showing featuring clutch fencing at the NCAA Northeast Regionals, seven Columbia fencers qualified for the 2012 NCAA Championships, which will be held March 22-26 at Ohio State, with at-large bids pending for three others.
"We fenced well," head coach Michael Aufrichtig said, "but if we get those at-large bids, we really will show great improvement over last year."
Actually, the number of Columbia qualifiers was even higher. Four fencers qualified in women's epee, an impressive number, and three more made it in women's sabre. Due to NCAA Championship rules, though, only two fencers per weapon may compete in the NCAA's.
Aufrichtig and his staff will select two epeeists from junior Lydia Kopecky, sophomore Katya English, and two first-years, Diana Tsinis and Natalie Gegan. In women's sabre, they will choose from senior Sammy Roberts, and juniors Essane and Loweye Diedro.
Tsinis was fourth in the Regional, and third in the all-important National Qualifying Ranking (NQR), which measures the entire season. Kopecky was fifth in the Regional, sixth in the NQR, closely followed by English, 10th and seventh, and Gegan, 11th in both.
Roberts was leading all Lion women's sabre fencers until she suffered an injury. Although it severely limited her mobility, she continued to fence, actually winning one more bout. She finished 12th in the Regional, but fifth with her NQR.
Essane Diedro, fencing what Aufrichtig called "her best all year", finished second in the Regional, behind only Anna Limbach of St. John's, and third in the NQR. Her sister was sixth in the Regional, fourth in the NQR.
The coach was also impressed with junior foilist D'Meca Homer, who earned her second straight trip to the NCAA's by finishing fifth in both the Regional and the NQR. Senior Abby Caparros-Janto, trying for her third NCAA appearance in foil, was ninth in the Regional, and earned the second alternate's spot in the weapon, good for an at-large bid.
There were fewer qualifiers on the men's side.
Men's sabre was led by first-year Will Spear, who placed fourth in the Regional and first in the National Qualifying Rank. He could be joined at the nationals by fellow first-year Michael Josephs, who placed 13th in the Regional and 12th in the NQR. His 12th place earned him yet another at-large spot. Sophomore Mel Rodriguez narrowly missed another trip to the NCAA when he finished 16th in the Regional, 14th in the NQR.
Sophomore Alen Hadzic punched his second straight ticket to Ohio State when he came on like an onrushing train, winning every bout after a woeful 0-5 start. He was fourth in the Regional, fifth in the NQR. Columbia's other two men's epee entrants, senior Sean Leahy and first-year Andrei Tapai, came up short, though.
The Lions' two men's foil competitors, Alex Pensler and Bo Charles, entered the Regional with high hopes after qualifying for the NCAA's in 2011, their freshman years. But Pensler only finished ninth in the Regional and 10th in the NQR, earning him an at-large spot, while Charles was shut out, finishing 14th in the Regional, 13th in the NQR, just two places short of an alternate's slot.
The Northeast Regional, at Boston College's William J. Flynn Recreational Complex, began at 8:30 a.m., and didn't end until well into the evening. The day took its toll on the fencers.
"The Regional was physically and emotionally draining," Essane Diedro said. "The intensity level was the highest it's been all season, not just for us, but for all the schools."
"It's an endurance [test]", Lydia Kopecky noted. "When you have to fence 24 bouts in a one-day Regional, you need endurance."
This was Kopecky's third Regional.
"Freshman year, it was really tough," she recalled. "This was my third time around. It was much easier this time."
The fencers now await the decisions of the NCAA Fencing Committee, which must consider whether to accept both the placing and NQR of the normal qualifiers, and rule on which at-large bids, from regionals throughout the nation, it will accept. The Committee rulings are anticipated in a few days; NCAA bids hinge on their decisions.