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Lydia Kopecky earned second team All-America with an 8th place at the NCAA's.
Courtesy: Columbia University Athletics/Gene Boyars

Kopecky and Roberts Earn All-America as Fencers Remain Seventh in NCAA Championships

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Lydia Kopecky earned second team All-America and Sammy Roberts concluded her superb career with a third-team All-America Friday, helping the Columbia fencing team to remain in seventh place after Day Two of the four-day NCAA Men's and Women's Fencing Championships at Ohio State.
    
Two other Lions, Essane Diedro and Diana Tsinis, finished in the top 20 as the NCAA's concluded the women's portion of the event.
    
For the second straight day, Columbia was in seventh place. Its 53 points (one point for each bout won) trailed Harvard by just nine, and was barely ahead of Penn and Northwestern, both with 52. Three other Ivies -- Brown, Cornell, and Yale -- were 12th, 13th and 14th.
    
Ivy League champion Princeton had vaulted past Notre Dame and Penn State to move into a tie for first with Ohio State, with 88 points each. The Fighting Irish were third, and Penn State was tied with St. John's for fourth.
    
Although they had fenced well on the first day, with which consisted of seven rounds, the Lions faced significant challenges in the final three rounds. Fencers from Princeton, Penn, Ohio State, Harvard and St. John's loomed.
    
Women's epee had led Columbia on Day One with 16 of the team's 35 victories, and would shoulder much of the responsibility for the final three rounds. But the NCAA Championships are a test for fencers, especially first-years, and like her fellow newcomers, Diana Tsinis struggled much of the day, registering only three victories. If epee was to come through again, Lydia Kopecky would have to excel.
    
The junior from Chicago was up to the task -- scoring points not only for her team, but for her own hopes. She focused on making the top eight in epee, and thus second team All-American.
    
In order to do that, Kopecky estimated that she would have to win two of the three bouts in each of the day's three rounds. She began, in Round 5, with two Harvard fencers, and one from Sacred Heart.
    
"I wanted to be aggressive that round," Kopecky said, "because I was tired, and didn't want to show it." Although losing to Sacred Heart's Megan Floyd, 5-3, she beat the Crimson's dangerous Nadia Eldeib, 5-1.
    
Harvard star Emma Vaggo, a Swedish national team star, would also test the Lion. "She is such a good fencer," Kopecky admitted, but she eked out a 5-4 win, giving her two of three in Round 5.
    
Two Ohio State fencers were ahead in Round 6, boasting not only talent but also a loud and enthusiastic home crowd.
    
Noting that "I didn't want to hold back" against the Buckeyes, Kopecky went right at them. She upset Katarzyna Dabrowa (who would go on to win the NCAA epee title), 5-2, one of only five losses Dabrowa suffered in the entire tournament, but then fell to OSU's Caroline Piasecka in a close one, 5-4. She then triumphed in another 5-4 bout, over Brown's Cory Abbe.
    
As Kopecky considered the next and final round, her upcoming opponents considered her, with considerable foreboding.
    
Lydia, you see, is no easy opponent. For one thing, she utilizes unusual flexibility in her legs to constantly bob up and down on the strip, a dangerous and elusive target.
    
"Lydia fakes down and goes up, fakes up and goes down," Diana Tsinis explained.
    
While skilled in all types of epee moves, Kopecky has perfected one in particular - the foot touch.
    
"She has a really good foot touch," an admiring Tsinis said. "It's a risky touch. Once you go for it, there's no going back. You either hit it or you miss it."
    
But when you do hit a foot touch, "it's very unexpected," Tsinis noted. "Almost every time she goes for it, she lands. She practices it all the time … Lydia trains really hard. I always see her in the New York Athletic Club, or in our fencing room."
    
All that training would come in very handy against her final round opponents, two Princeton Tigers and a Duke Blue Devil. The Tigers' Hannah Safford would be her first foe.
    
"I usually beat Hannah," Kopecky said, "but often by just 5-4. [Our bouts] are always nerve-wracking."
    
Although keyed up for the bout, Kopecky was very patient. She took a 2-1 lead, and protected it until there were about 30 seconds left. Knowing Safford would have to attack to tie it up, Lydia opened up, scoring three straight double touches. The third, with the score 4-3, gave Kopecky a 5-4 win.
    
Her next opponent was another Princeton fencer, Katherine Holmes. One of the best collegiate epeeists in the nation, Holmes could be particularly dangerous.
    
Sure enough, she scored the first touch. A double touch then gave Holmes a 2-1 lead, which she expanded to 3-1 and then 4-1.
    
Winning bouts was important to Kopecky, but so was scoring touches, and limiting those against her. Places in fencing are decided initially by wins, but indicators - the margin between touches for and touches against - are used to break ties in the standings.
    
Kopecky had a decision to make. Should she attack Holmes again before time expired, going for a highly unlikely win, or should she keep he margin at 4-1?
    
She chose to leave it at 4-1. "Lydia made a very smart decision," head coach Michael Aufrichtig said. "Giving up another touch in a 5-1 bout would have cost her eighth place."
    
Kopecky still had one more hurdle, Sarah Collins of Duke.
    
"I knew I had a very good chance of beating her," Kopecky said. "I went up two touches and then made a silly attack. Then I remembered Michael's words -- 'Every single touch counts' -- and I didn't give her another touch."
    
Leading 2-1, Lydia scored a double touch for a 3-2 lead, then hit a BIG touch to go ahead 4-2. Her final touch capped the 5-2 victory.
    
Prophetically, Kopecky's final win was her 15th (in 23 bouts), tying her with Princeton's Safford and Ohio State's Piasecka for 7th through 9th places.
    
Safford scored 85 touches and allowed 70. The plus 15 margin -- +15 indicators in fencing parlance -- earned her seventh place. Kopecky was eighth with +13 indicators (93 for, 80 against), edging Piasecka for her final second team All-America slot by just a singe indicator; Piasecka's 88 touches for, 76 against, gave her +12 indicators. It was that close.
    
While epee's "war" was being waged at one end of French Field House, sabre's battle occupied the other end. Neither Columbia fencer, Sammy Roberts or Essane Diedro, was in contention for a top spot, but that didn't stop each from fencing hard every bout.
    
Waylaid early in the day by some disputed officiating, the two Lions were going for the top 12 as the day wound down.
    
Roberts, a senior co-captain closing out a superb Columbia career, went into the final round needing three victories to have a shot at third-team All-America, which goes to those finishing ninth through 12th, only.
    
Her first two were pretty easy, 5-1 each over Julia Klepner of Stanford and Elissa Gesner of UC San Diego. The third, though, was anything but.
    
Knowing this would be her final collegiate bout ever, Roberts scored the first touch, only to see North Carolina's Gillian Litynski hit two straight for a 2-1 lead.
    
Roberts garnered two more touches to take a 3-2 lead, only to have it tied at 3-3 by another Lytinski score. The resilient Roberts hit another for a 4-3 lead, just one touch from victory. But here was the Tar Heel again -- another deadlock at 4-4. It was Columbia Blue vs. Carolina Blue -- the schools' official colors -- down to the wire.
    
And then, as she had done so many times during her four years on Morningside Heights, Sammy Roberts scored the winning touch for a 5-4 triumph. It gave her 12 victories for the tournament, tied with Penn's Dominika Franciszkowicz and Ohio State's Alison Miller for the final three third team All-America spots.
    
Junior Essane Diedro, competing in her first NCAA championship, was 14th with 10 wins.
    
Another junior, D'Meca Homer, represented Columbia in the women's foil competition. Homer had hard going both days, finishing with six victories. Day Two was particularly tough for her, with two Princeton opponents and one each from St. John's -- eventual foil champion Evgeniya Kirpicheva -- and Penn State.
    
In a sport where single touches decide top tens, top twenties, and All-American honors, Homer's six wins were extremely important. "In a tournament like this," Aufrichtig said, "everybody contributes. Thanks to fencers like D'Meca, we were able to remain in seventh place through two days of the tournament."
    
Aufrichtig looked back on the women's section of the NCAA's, and his Lions' performances.
    
"Although our expectations for next year will be a lot higher," he said, "we represented Columbia very well these last two days.
    
"I am extremely proud."

Today's results:

NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day Two)
Friday, March 23, 2012
French Fieldhouse, The Ohio State University


1. Ohio State and Princeton, 88 points (wins); 3. Notre Dame, 82; 4. Penn State and St. John's, 81; 6. Harvard, 62; 7. COLUMBIA, 53; 8. Penn and Northwestern, 52; 10. Temple, 40; 11. Duke, 37; 12. Brown, 21; 14. Cornell, 18; 14. Yale, 15; Stanford, 12; 16. North Carolina, 8; 17. Sacred Heart, 6; 18. MIT, 5; 19. Boston College, 4; 20. UC San Diego, 1  

Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)

Women's Sabre

1. Becca Ward, Duke, 19 - gold medal
2. Monica Aksamit, Penn State, 19 - silver
3. Eliza Stone, Princeton, and Anna Limbach, St. John's, 16 - bronze
5. Caroline Vloka, Harvard, 15
6. Kamali Thompson, Temple, 15
7. Margarita Tschomakova, Ohio State, 13
8. Lian Osier, Notre Dame, 13
9. Nicole Glon, Penn State, 13
10. Dominika Franciszkowicz, Penn, 12
11. Alison Miller, Ohio State, 12
12. Sammy Roberts, COLUMBIA, 12
14. Essane Diedro, COLUMBIA, 10

Women's Foil
1. Evgeniya Kirpicheva, St. John's, 17 - gold
2. Luona Wang, Penn, 17 - silver
3. Mona Shaito, Ohio State, 14, and Alina Antokhina, Penn State, 18 - bronze
5. Grace Hartman, Notre Dame, 16
6. Dayana Sarkisova, Northwestern, 16
7. Lauren Miller, Yale, 15
8. Madison Zeiss, Notre Dame, 15
9. Irina Koroleva, St. John's, 15
10. Ambika Singh, Princeton, 14
22. D'Meca Homer, COLUMBIA, 6

Women's Epee
1. Katarzyna Dabrowa, Ohio State, 18 - gold
2. Margherita Guzzi Vincenti, Penn State, 19 - silver
3. Katherine Holmes, Princeton, 19, and Kate Cavanaugh, Northwestern, 17 - bronze
5. Ashley Severson, Notre Dame, 16
6. Alina Ferdman, St. John's, 16
7. Hannah Safford, Princeton, 15
8. Lydia Kopecky, COLUMBIA, 15
9. Caroline Piasecka, Ohio State, 15
10. Oksana Samorodov, Penn State, 12
11. Nicole Ameli, Notre Dame, 12
12. Amrit Bhinder, Penn, 12
17. Diana Tsinis, COLUMBIA, 10

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