COLUMBUS, OHIO — Just three months after their first brush with college final exams, four Columbia men's fencers, all first-years, experienced many of the same emotions while competing in their first NCAA Fencing Championships, Thursday at Ohio State's French Fieldhouse.
   
Following four rounds of fencing, Columbia stood in 10th place with 21 victories (points), as Notre Dame took the first-day lead with 61 victories. Each five-point win by an individual fencer counts as one victory/point in his team's total.
   
"[The NCAA tournament] was different from what I expected," Alex Pensler noted, "a lot more than any [tournament] this year. It's really mentally draining." Pensler's fellow foilist, Bo Charles, concurred. "It's very different," he said. "It's challenging, frustrating and fun. It's a little bit of everything."
   
Pensler and Charles combined for 12 of Columbia's 21 victories against a strong field. Pensler ranked 12th after 14 bouts with a 7-7 record, while Charles was 16th with a 5-9 record.
   
Columbia's two other men's fencers — the women's portion of the tournament begins Saturday — teamed for nine victories. Alen Hadzic is 19th in men's epee with a 5-9 record, while Mel Rodriguez is 4-10 in men's sabre for 20th place.
   
Pensler registered several superb victories. He bested Yale star Nat Botwinick, 5-4, fending off the Bulldog's surge after Botwinick scored two straight touches to knot the bout at 4-4.
   
"It was good to finally beat him," Pensler said. "We belong to the same fencing club."
   
He also defeated Botwinick's teammate, Shiv Kachru, 5-3, and Duke All-American Dorian Cohen, 5-0. Pensler just missed a major upset when he fenced Notre Dame's Reggie Bentley.
   
Down two touches to none, Alex fought back to 2-2, notching the second just 16 seconds before time expired in the bout. The 2-2 deadlock forced the bout into overtime.
   
The first touch would decide the clash, and it looked like Pensler was the one to score that touch. But the electronic scoring system didn't agree.
   
"I thought I hit him," the Lion fencer said, "but it didn't go off. Then he hit me."
   
Pensler did conclude on a winning note, though. He beat Robert Malcolm of Ivy League- champion Princeton, 5-3.
   
"I was kind of hoping to win that one," he noted. "I wanted to end the day on a good one."
   
Charles also defeated Botwinick and Kachru, 5-4 and 5-2, and Malcolm by a 5-2 score. His other wins were over Joseph Alter of North Carolina and Julian Cardillo of Brandeis. The bout he'd like to have back, though, was against Notre Dame All-American Ariel DeSmet.
   
"That was a difficult bout," Charles recalled. "I had just lost two bouts, and I was really trying to keep my focus." Notre Dame boasted the most vocal crowd at the tournament, but their raucous cheers just spurred Charles to greater heights. "I love it when the crowd cheers," he said. Even though DeSmet pulled out a 5-2 victory, you could tell Charles relished the competition.
   
"It's all about competing, competing and having a good time."
   
Hadzic, the Lions' lone men's epeeist, had a difficult day in the pressure-packed competition. He posted several significant wins, including a 5-3 defeat of Harvard's James Hawrot, but lost three bouts by 5-4 scores — two to Penn fencers and one to Ohio State's Marco Canevari.
   
Like Pensler, he closed the day in triumph, defeating Princeton star Jonathan Yergler, 5-4. Hadzic let all his emotions loose as he won that fifth point, letting out a triumphant yell probably heard clear across  Columbus and thrusting both arms above his head.
   
Rodriguez also struggled against a grueling field of sabre fencers. He lost three bouts by 5-4 scores, to fencers from Ohio State, Wayne State and Harvard, while winning just four, over men from UC San Diego, Air Force, and Boston College.
   
Oh yes, and, in one of the major sabre victories of the day, Rodriguez beat Adrian Bak of Penn State, 5-4. It gave him two straight victories over the Nittany Lion standout after defeating him in a meet at St. John's in early January.
   
Mel threw a scare into Bak's Penn State teammate, former NCAA champion Aleksander Ochocki, when he came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the bout at 3-3. The tying touch spurred a panicky dialogue between Ochocki and his coach. He then scored two straight touches on Rodriguez. 
   
The men's competition concludes tomorrow.
   
Today's results:

NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day One)
Thursday, March 24, 2011
French Fieldhouse, The Ohio State University


1. Notre Dame 61; 2. Penn State 53; 3. St, John's 40; 4. Ohio State & Harvard 39; 6. Princeton 38; 7. Penn 37; 8. Duke & Stanford 28; 10. COLUMBIA 21; 11. Yale 20; 12. Air Force 18; 13. Sacred Heart 15; 14. Vassar 13; 15. Brandeis 11; 16. NYU & Wayne State 7; 18. Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, UC San Diego and Drew, all 5; 22. Boston College, North Carolina and Brown, all 3.

Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)

Men's Sabre
1. Aleksander Ochocki, Penn State, 13
2. Daryl Homer, St. John's, 12
3. Avery Zuck, Notre Dame, 11
4. Evan Prochniak, Penn, 11
20. Mel Rodriguez, COLUMBIA, 4

Men's Foil
1. Miles Chamley-Watson, Penn State, 13
2. David Willette, Penn State, 12
3. Ariel DeSmet, Notre Dame, 12
4. Reggie Bentley, Notre Dame, 11
12.  Alex Pensler, COLUMBIA, 7
16. Bo Charles, COLUMBIA, 5

Men's Epee

1. Marat Israelian, St. John's, 11
2. Jonathan Yergler, Princeton, 11
3. Jonathan Parker, Duke, 10
4. Marco Canevari, Ohio State, 10
19. Alen Hadzic, COLUMBIA, 5