SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Just a few months after the start of her college fencing career, freshman Jackie Dubrovich came within a few touches of the sport's collegiate peak when she won 20 of 23 bouts in women's foil to advance to the NCAA individual semifinals, and then earned a silver medal.
Her achievements helped to put a cap on the 2013 NCAA Fencing Championships, which concluded Sunday at Freeman Coliseum.
Dubrovich and her teammates, including senior Loweye Diedro, who made third team All-America in women's sabre, helped Columbia to pass both Stanford and Penn for seventh place.
Behind 13 Day Four victories from women's foil, and seven more from women's sabre, the Lions scored 24 victories (points) on the final day to power them past Stanford and Penn for seventh place, one better than last season. Columbia totaled 117 victories in the four-day men's & women's competition, ahead of the Cardinal (111) and the Quakers (95). The Lions' 117 points was actually 24 better than their NCAA total in 2012, Michael Aufrichtig's first year as head coach.
"I actually think we underperformed," Aufrichtig admitted. "I thought before the tournament that we had a chance to finish in the top five, but I am very happy the way everything ended."
The coach noted, however, that the Lions' fine second-day performance could not have happened without the efforts of four fencers who came through when it really counted.
"Jackie, Loweye, D'Meca Homer and Natalie Gegan all had great second days," he said. "They catapulted us past Stanford."
No one enjoyed a better tournament than Jackie Dubrovich. She won 13 of 15 bouts the first day, and even bettered that percentage when she won seven of eight the following day, to finish second of 24 with a 20-3 record.
Her success wouldn't have been surprising to the first-year … before the tournament.
"I always want to win, that's my mindset at any competition," she noted. "Other fencers who had gone to the NCAA's told me how intense it was, but I figured I could handle all that. I had been in [many] national and international competitions."
Nevertheless, she wasn't prepared for the non-stop maelstrom that is the NCAA Championships.
"It was as nerve-wracking as any North America Cup I have ever been in," she said. "It's all those five-touch bouts. You have to be focused from the start.
"The best of the best are here. Here every single person is good, it's not like that in [other] national and international tournaments. Every bout is extremely, extremely intense!"
The first day of competition threw Dubrovich into a whirlwind of fencing expertise. She faced foil fencers from Princeton, the eventual NCAA champion; Notre Dame, St. John's, and Penn State. It prepared her well for the remainder of the competition.
"It was a long and grueling day. I had to maintain my focus all day. I was forced to fence like that from the start. I was exhausted physically, but composed mentally."
That mindset carried her into the second day. Facing six formidable foes in the first round, she defeated all six, incredibly shutting out two. One was her first opponent of the day, Dayana Sarkisova of Northwestern, a 5-0 victim; she also dealt a 5-0 defeat to Olivia Dobbs of Wayne State.
Significantly, Dubrovich edged Olympian Mona Shaito of Ohio State, 5-3, seeing a fourth touch against her reversed by video replay, then followed by beating Shaito's sister, Mai, 5-4, with 15 seconds left. That final touch was confirmed by video.
Dubrovich led off the final round with another shutout, 5-0 over Stanford's Lily McElwee, but then suffered a loss -- "a bout I shouldn't have lost", she said -- to McElwee's sister Mary, an Air Force Academy cadet, 5-4 in overtime. She quickly bounced back to defeat two Temple fencers by a combined 10-3 score. That ended her round-robin fencing with a 20-3 score, second among all women's foilists, and propelled her into the individual semifinals as the second seed.
Dubrovich was matched against Notre Dame's Madison Zeiss, an accomplished national standout, but now in the preferred 15-touch bouts. The 15-touch format gives fencers time to plan, or reverse, strategy.
"Zeiss is tall, and a strong defender," Jackie said. "I had to try to change her strategy, to pressure her."
Dubrovich lost her first two touches, then fought back to lead, 4-2. Zeiss caught up at 4-4, delighting the loudly partisan Notre Dame crowd. But Jackie responded with six straight touches, for a commanding 10-4 margin. "I kept pressure on her."
Zeiss drew within five at 10-5 and 11-6, but the Lion held her off for a 15-7 win. Over on the other strip, Ohio State's Mona Shaito was losing her semifinal bout, 15-5, setting up a championship confrontation between Dubrovich and another N.D. standout, Lee Kiefer. Jackie knew her well.
"Lee is an established fencer," she said. "She's very quick, and very small. That makes her difficult to hit. Really, she's made for the sport."
Kiefer, who was fifth in the Olympics, was used to championship pressure. She scored three straight touches on Dubrovich. But Jackie has been in high-level competition, too. She scored three herself to tie the bout at 3-3.
The Fighting Irish star then broke it open with five consecutive touches and an 8-3 lead. She still led by five, 11-6, when Dubrovich grabbed some momentum of her own. She scored two straight quick touches to draw within three at 11-8.
Suddenly, the official halted the bout. It was still 53 seconds from the end of the round, and a short break, but he ruled that the break would begin then. Both fencers were bewildered.
"It's a new rule they put in last year," Michael Aufrichtig explained later. "When there is no contact between the two fencers for a certain period, when the weapons are not touching, fencing is halted. It's designed to keep them from just standing there to use up time, but Jackie and Lee were fencing."
"I was surprised, Lee was surprised," Jackie recalled. "Neither of us knew what it was. The break really messed me up mentally."
Kiefer scored a touch as soon as fencing resumed, then another, and another. She completed a 15-8 win for the title seconds later.
Although Dubrovich had entered the tournament hoping to win, she was, she said, "very happy with the second place."
Her fellow foilist, senior D'Meca Homer, had struggled the first day, with just two wins in 15 bouts, but inspired by her teammate's success, the woman her comrades call "Meeks" positively lit up the final round of her college career.
There was nothing "meek" about Homer's fencing. She beat future bronze medalist Mona Shaito, 5-3, and her sister Mai, 4-3 in overtime. In the final round, Homer split with two Temple fencers. She then closed her Columbia career with a flourish, dealing twin 5-0 shutouts to the McElwee sisters, Mary of Air Force and Lily of Stanford!
"This was my fourth NCAA," the Lion co-captain said. "I am excited to qualify all four years.
"I fenced much better today, the second day. The NCAA requires a lot of mental and physical stamina. If you have a bad day, you reset and it's a whole new competition the next day. Today, I left yesterday behind me."
Homer finished 19th, her eight victories contributing greatly to Columbia's second-place finish.
Loweye Diedro was another senior who came through in her final college competition. She won eight of 15 her first day, ranking her 10th, then won five of eight the final day for a 13-10 record. That elevated her to ninth, and third team All-America.
Teaming with her twin sister Essane, who went 7-16 and placed 20th, Loweye beat Lian Osier of Notre Dame and Jessica Russo of Penn State, who finished ahead of her in seventh and eighth, in Round Six. In the final round she topped Allison Miller of Ohio State, the eventual fifth-place finisher, 5-3, then topped Kaja Klodawska of Wayne State and Chloe Grainger of Northwestern.
"I'm really proud of Loweye," D'Meca Homer said.
Natalie Gegan also enjoyed a superb final day. Fencing epee, the sophomore helped to make up for the absence of All-America epeeist Lydia Kopecky, who didn't qualify for the NCAA's this season. Although winning only three buts the first day, Gegan was 4-4 the second, with wins over fencers from Duke, Temple, and a formidable duo from Northwestern, Dina Bazarbayeva, 5-3, and Courtney Dumas, 5-2.
Seventh place in the NCAA Championships, a silver medalist, a first team All-America, two second team All-Americas, and two third team honorees. It's a long ride from New York to San Antonio, Texas, but one proven well worth it for the Columbia Lions.
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day Four/Final Results)
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Freeman Coliseum, San Antonio, Texas
1. Princeton, 182 points (victories); 2. Notre Dame, 175; 3. Penn State, 163; 4. Ohio State, 146; 5. St. John's, 139; 6. Harvard, 134; 7. COLUMBIA, 117; 8. Stanford, 111; 9. Penn, 95; 10. Yale, 45; 11. Northwestern, 44; 12. Duke, 42; 13. North Carolina, 37; 14. Temple, 30; 15. Wayne State, 26; 16. Brown, 23; 17. MIT, 23; 18. NYU, 23; 19. Cornell, 20; 20. Air Force, 20; 21. Sacred Heart, 19; 22. Brandeis, 19; 23. Boston College, 10; 24. UCSD, 10; 25. Drew, 3
Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Eliza Stone, Princeton, 21 - gold
2. Anna Limbach, St. John's, 18 - silver
3. Gracie Stone, Princeton, 17 - bronze
3. Gillian Lytinski, UNC, 17 - bronze
5. Allison Miller, Ohio State, 16
6. Nicole Glon, Penn State, 15
7. Jessica Russo, Penn State, 15
8. Lian Osier, Notre Dame, 14
9. Loweye Diedro, COLUMBIA, 13
10. Madeline Oliver, Yale, 12
20. Essane Diedro, COLUMBIA, 7
Semifinals: E. Stone def. Litynski, 15-6; Limbach def. G. Stone, 15-9
Championship Final: E. Stone def. Limbach, 15-10
1. Lee Kiefer, Notre Dame, 22 - gold
2. Jackie Dubrovich, Columbia, 20 - silver
3. Madison Zeiss, Notre Dame, 18 - bronze
3. Mona Shaito, Ohio State, 16 - bronze
5. Luona Wang, Penn, 16
6. Alexandra Kiefer, Harvard, 15
7. Clarisse Luminet, Penn State, 15
8. Dayana Sarkisova, Northwestern, 13
9. Ambika Singh, Princeton, 13
10. Eve Levin, Princeton, 13
11. Marta Hausman, St. John's, 12
19. D'Meca Homer, COLUMBIA, 8
Semifinals: L. Kiefer def. Shaito, 15-5; Dubrovich def. Zeiss, 15-7
Championship Final: L. Kiefer def. Dubrovich, 15-8
1. Susannah Scanlan, Princeton, 19 - silver
2. Margherita Guzzi Vincenti, Penn State, 18 - bronze
3. Courtney Hurley, Notre Dame, 18 - gold
4. Vivian Kong, Stanford, 17 - bronze
5. Katherine Holmes, Princeton, 16
6. Katarzyna Dabrowa, Ohio State, 16
7. Francesca Bassa, Stanford, 16
8. Ewa Nelip, Notre Dame, 15
9. Courtney Dumas, Northwestern, 14
10. Alina Ferdman, St. John's, 12
11. Nina Van Loon, Harvard, 12
12. Dina Bazarbayeva, Northwestern, 12
21. Diana Tsinis, COLUMBIA, 6
20. Natalie Gegan, COLUMBIA, 7
Semifinals: Scanlan def. Kong, 15-10; Hurley def. Guzzi Vincenti, 15-14
Championship Final: Hurley def. Scanlan, 15-6