COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sophomore Jackie Dubrovich won 13 of 15 bouts in women's foil to lead Columbia Fencing on the first day of the 2014 NCAA Fencing Championships.
The competition was held at the French Field House at Ohio State University.
Dubrovich, the 2013 silver medalist as a first-year, picked up right where she left off. Her 13-2 record put her into a tie with Lee Kiefer of Notre Dame, who also netted 13 victories. Dubrovich's fellow Columbia foil fencer, first-year Sara Taffel, acquitted herself well in the tough field, with a 7-8 record.
They combined for 20 of Columbia's 27 victories on the tourney's opening day, earning the Lions ninth place in a tie with Temple. Princeton, the defending NCAA champion, and Penn State lead the field with 60 and 56 victories (points), respectively.
As she did last season, Dubrovich attracted attention from spectators and fencers every time she stepped on the strip.
"Jackie has been on fire," head coach Michael Aufrichtig noted. "She looks in great form. She is tall, athletic and flexible. Not only is she extremely strong, but very smart, too.
"She has everything it takes to win a national title."
Dubrovich, the international standout from Northern New Jersey, certainly looked the part early, surging to first place in the Women's Foil competition. She shut out one opponent, and limited most others to one or two touches.
"I feel the field of fencers is stronger this year than last, but I'm more prepared. I'm more prepared for the format," she noted.
So much of fencing is mental. "I have to prepare myself mentally for every bout, for every opponent. I have to be one hundred per cent focused; if I'm not 100% focused, there's going to be a problem."
Dubrovich has also been affected by two injuries in the second half of the season. Not training as much as she normally would have, might have led to fatigue that she had been battling.
All of that could have cast a pallor over Jackie's efforts against Notre Dame. Undefeated through two rounds, she was surprised by the Fighting Irish pair of Lee Kiefer and Madison Zeiss, losing to both by wide margins.
Against Kiefer, a long-time opponent, Dubrovich admitted "I was hesitant, not confident in my actions." Kiefer won a 5-0 decision.
Zeiss, another Notre Dame veteran, loomed in Jackie's very next bout.
"I needed to step back," she said, "[before facing Zeiss]. I don't think I did that." The Notre Damer took a 5-1 decision.
Dubrovich could have crumbled, as many fencers before her had done. But she no doubt took heart from her traveling partner -- fencers "travel" from round to round in groups of four -- her Columbia teammate, Sara Taffel.
Taffel immediately jumped into the fray. Although she relinquished a 3-1 lead to Caroline Mattos of Brandeis, allowing her to tie the bout at 3-3, the spirited Taffel won the next two touches for the 5-3 win. "I loved having Sara as my travel partner," Jackie said.
Dubrovich had yet another Kiefer to worry about, Lee's sister Alexandra. The Harvard standout, a former NCAA champion, took a 1-0 lead over the Lion.
Dubrovich fought back, as strongly as she so often does. She tied the bout at 1-1, then went up, 2-1. Kiefer made it 2-2, and it lingered there until fewer than two minutes remained of the three-minute time limit.
Suddenly Jackie struck for a touch with 1:32 to go. Kiefer came back to 3-3 at the 1:17 mark. But the old Jackie Dubrovich had returned; she took 4-3 lead with just 1:04 to go, and struck again seconds later for a 5-3 victory in the day's final round.
Michael Aufrichtig marveled at his sophomore fencer. "Jackie," he said, "is one of the strongest in-fighting fencers I have ever known."
Two of Columbia's freshmen enjoyed solid, but deceptive NCAA debuts.
Sara Taffel won seven of her 15 bouts to place 14th in the first-day standings. The figure was deceiving, as Aufrichtig pointed out.
"She had so many close bouts," he said. "One touch here, one touch there, and she's 10-5 instead of 7-8." Sara, for her part, refused to let the losses get to her. "I have to stay level-headed and calm," she said, "and do the best I can.
"I plan not to think about [the final day], but to do the best I can." The coaching staff was doing the next day's thinking for her. "I feel Sara can be an All-American after Friday's fencing," Aufrichtig assured. The top 12 fencers in each weapon make All-American.
The Lions' other first-year to qualify for the NCAA's also excelled despite a deceptive record.
Mason Speta slipped to 17th place after a strong start, with a 6-9 record. "Although she won only six bouts," Aufrichtig pointed out, "seven fencers ahead of her all tied for eighth with 7-8 records. Mason was just one win away from tying for eighth."
Speta must face fencers from Ohio State, St. John's, and Notre Dame on Friday. But her coach expressed faith in her ability, noting that "Mason has a good shot to be an All-American."
The women's section of the NCAA Championships concludes Friday, March 21, with men's fencing commencing Saturday, March 22.
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day One)
Thursday, March 20, 2014
French Field House, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
1. Princeton, 60 victories (points); 2. Penn State, 56; 3. Ohio State, 53; 4. Harvard, 50; 5. Notre Dame, 48; 6. St. John's, 43; 7. Stanford, 29; 8. Temple, 27; 9. COLUMBIA, 27; 10. Northwestern, 23; 11. Penn 20; 12. Yale, 19; 13. Brown, 18; 14. Air Force, 14; 15. Wayne State, 12 -- 21 schools
Individual Standings (top six and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Adrienne Jarocki, Harvard, 13
2. Gracie Stone, Princeton, 12
3. Aliya Itzkowitz, Harvard, 12
4. Nicole Glon, Penn State, 11
5. Alexa Antipas, Ohio State, 10
6. Teodora Kakhiani, Penn State, 10
24. Sarah Yee, COLUMBIA, 1
1. Lee Kiefer, Notre Dame, 13
2. Jackie Dubrovich, COLUMBIA, 13
3. Mona Shaito, Ohio State, 12
4. Clarisse Luminet, Penn State, 11
5. Madison Zeiss, Notre Dame, 11
6. Alexandra Kiefer, Harvard, 11
14. Sara Taffel, COLUMBIA, 7
1. Vivian Kong, Stanford, 13
2. Susie Scanlan, Princeton, 12
3. Jessie Radanovich, Penn State, 12
4. Francesca Bassa, Stanford, 11
5. Alina Ferdman, St. John's, 10
6. Nicole Amelie, Notre Dame, 9
7. Katherine Holmes, Princeton, 9
17. Mason Speta, COLUMBIA, 6