POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — Coming off a regular season marked by highs and lows, the Columbia fencing team boasted many of the former, and very few of the latter, at the NCAA Northeast Regionals Sunday, March 13 at Vassar College.
Fighting its way through the grueling full day of fencing that is the NCAA Regionals, Columbia sent five of a possible five women's fencers on their way to the NCAA Six-Weapon (men's and women's) Championships March 24-27 at The Ohio State University in Columbus. Although the Columbia men's squad had lower expectations after struggling all season, four of a possible six Lion men's fencers emerged from the Regionals with tickets to Columbus.
"We are very pleased with today's results," a beaming George Kolombatovich said. "We did as well as we had hoped. We came here to send our fencers to Ohio, and we were successful."
The veteran head coach was particularly pleased with his team's success in light of its youth. Five of the nine qualifiers are first-year students, and three others are sophomores. Inexperience historically has been a bar to success at the Regionals.
"This bodes very well for the future of Columbia Fencing," the coach noted.
The five-person women's contingent included two sabre fencers, junior Sammy Roberts and sophomore Loweye Diedro; two epeeists, first-year Katya English and sophomore Lydia Kopecky; and foilist D'Meca Homer, another sophomore.
Homer finished sixth in the Regional and fifth among the nine qualifiers in the all-important National Qualifying Rank (NQR). She was the only women's foil fencer to enter the Regional for the Lions, as Ivy League Rookie of the Year Nzingha Prescod is competing with the United States National Team, aiming for a berth in the next Olympics.
Loweye Diedro, fencing collegiately for the first time, placed second in the women's sabre Regional, behind only All-American Dagmara Wozniak of St. John's, and second in the NQR. Sammy Roberts was ninth in the Regional and fifth in the NQR.
Another Lion sabreist, Essane Diedro, also excelled. Her fine Regional performance placed her sixth among the sabre fencers, but the NCAA limits entrants to just two per weapon.
Kopecky and English were third and fourth among women's epee qualifiers, trailing only All-American Noam Mills of Harvard and Alina Ferdman of St. John's. Another fine Columbia first-year, Gaby Strass, fenced beautifully in placing 14th in the Regional and 10th among qualifiers, but also ran into the two per school rule.
The four-person men's squad which qualified for the NCAA's included two foilists, Alex Pensler and Bo Charles; epeeist Alen Hadzic; and sabrist Mel Rodriguez. All four are first-years.
Pensler was fourth and Charles ninth in the Regional; in the NQR, Pensler was fourth and Charles placed eighth, the final qualifying spot in men's foil.
The Lions nearly had two epee qualifiers. Hadzic made the cut with a ninth in the NQR, but junior co-captain Sean Leahy missed the cutoff by one place, and will be an alternate.
Rodriguez carried the colors for Columbia, placing 10th in the Regional and 11th in the NQR, the final qualifying spot.
"Mel's showing was a special result for us," Kolombatovich said. "He rose to the occasion."