COLUMBUS, OHIO — Behind Alen Hadzic's eight victories in nine bouts, the Columbia fencing team retained its hold on 10th place as the NCAA Fencing Championships concluded the second of its four days.
Hadzic, a first-year, as are Columbia's other three men's NCAA qualifiers, bounced back from a 5-9 performance in men's epee Thursday with a superb showing Friday at Ohio State's French Fieldhouse. He won his first two bouts of the day over Stanford's Jake Harbour and Kevin Mo, lost to All-American Daniel Trapani of Air Force, but then reeled off six straight victories to conclude his tournament with a flourish.
He helped Columbia to post 19 victories in three rounds for a total of 40, leaving the Lions well behind first-place Notre Dame's 90, but ahead of Yale (11th, 37) and Air Force (12th, 35), while well within reach of Penn (7th, 55), Stanford (8th, 50), and Duke (9th, 43).
Alex Pensler also fenced well on the second day, winning six of nine bouts, while fellow foilist Bo Charles won four of nine against strong opposition.
"Today went better than yesterday," Pensler said. "I knew what to expect."
The Chicagoan beat Harvard's two foilsmen, both by 5-3 scores, and later defeated fencers from Ohio State, Penn and Stanford. One of his three losses was to Air Force's Daniel Cohen, 5-3; Cohen is the son of a Columbia Athletics team physician, Dr. Gloria Cohen.
Charles also lost to Cohen, but joined Pensler in beating Harvard, while adding significant victories over Turner Caldwell of Stanford and Zain Shaito of Ohio State, both of whom finished in foil's top 10.
Although he excelled at the Ivy League Championships, making first team All-Ivy League, Hadzic admitted to being unsettled by the intense action of the NCAA tournament's opening day.
But he bounced back from those woes to compete well in Thursday's closing matches, and carried it over into Friday.
"Today," he said, "I stayed loose and I stayed committed to my actions."
He began the day with 5-3 and 5-1 wins against Stanford, but was blanked, 5-0, by the Air Force's Trapani. In the next round, Hadzic bested Duke's duo, Jonathan Parker and Dylan Nollner, by a combined 10-4, and edged Anthony Green of Penn State, 5-4 in a squeaker.
Hadzic let out a scream of victory when he posted the fifth touch on the Nittany Lion.
"I've known Anthony for years," he explained. "He trained with my coach. The [scream] was out of respect; we hugged it out at the end."
By the time Hadzic moved on to the final round of the tournament, he was on a roll — and needed to be with Notre Dame coming up.
First up for the Columbia fencer was James Kaull, a standout on the United States World Team.
"James Kaull has had two top eight finishes in World Cups this year," Hadzic noted. "I generally have high scores against him, but I still was careful."
Alen netted the first two touches and never trailed. Kaull closed to within 4-3 before Hadzic put him away for a 5-3 victory.
His next opponent also prompted caution, for several reasons. Not only had Brent Kelly been fired up and fencing well, but Kelly, a Fighting Irish veteran, was backed up by the enthusiastic and loud Notre Dame cheering section. And there was another factor, the chance for Kelly to defeat someone from his old school; he had fenced epee for Columbia before transferring to Notre Dame.
"I wanted to go out with a bang," Hadzic said. "I was super careful with Kelly. I took him very seriously."
This time, it was Hadzic's turn to fall behind, as Kelly got the first two touches. Alen's first touch brought him within 2-1; a double touch, unique to epee, gave each a point.
Down 3-2, Hadzic tied the bout at 3-3, and it went to 4-4 with another double touch. One more point would win the bout for either fencer.
And it looked like Hadzic earned that point, on a Kelly error; the fans who packed the stands, and most of the Notre Dame fencers, appeared to think so, but the official hadn't seen it. It was still 4-4.
Not for long, though, as scant seconds later, Hadzic fired a touch that the official did see. When the 5-4 victory was ruled, he let out a trademark "YEAHHH". Hadzic called the exulting screams, "A college thing. I just started doing them here."
One bout later, Alen did go out with a bang, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Vassar's Brian Rouse, 5-3. It was his 13th victory of the tournament, and earned him honorable mention All-American honors. Alex Pensler, his Lion teammate, also won 13 bouts, in foil, and he, too, was honorable mention All-American.
Columbia's other men's fencer, sabreman Mel Rodriguez, appeared to get off to a solid start for the day. He pushed Notre Dame All-American Avery Zuck almost to the limit, tying him at 3-3 before the Irish star posted two touches. Rodriguez then put it to another Notre Dame star, Barron Nydam, breaking a 3-3 deadlock with two touches of his own for a 5-3 Columbia win. Rodriguez lost the next bout, but by only 5-4 to Marty Williams of Sacred Heart. Unfortunately, Rodriguez lost his last six bouts.
The NCAA Championships resume Saturday at 10 a.m. with the women's competition. Columbia will be represented by four women: junior Sammy Roberts and sophomore Loweye Diedro in sabre, sophomore Lydia Kopecky and first-year Katya English in epee, and sophomore D'Meca Homer in foil. Incidentally, D'Meca's brother Daryl won his second consecutive NCAA men's sabre title Friday, for St. John's.
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day Two)
Friday, March 25, 2011
French Fieldhouse, The Ohio State University
1. Notre Dame 90; 2. Penn State 84; 3. St. John's 71; 4. Ohio State & Harvard 65; 6. Princeton 63; 7. Penn 55; 8. Stanford 50; 9. Duke 43; 10. COLUMBIA 40; 11. Yale 37; 12. Air Force 35; 13. Sacred Heart 27; 14. Vassar 18; 15. Brandeis 15; 16. Wayne State 11; 17. NYU & Boston College 9; 19. Drew and Detroit Mercy 8; 21. Brown & Cleveland State 7; 23. UC San Diego 6; 24. North Carolina 5.
Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Daryl Homer, St. John's, 19 - gold medal
2. Avery Zuck, Notre Dame, 18 - silver
3. Aleksander Ochocki, Penn State, 19, & Evan Prochniak, Penn, 17 - bronze
5. Marty Williams, Sacred Heart, 15
6. Barron Nydam, Notre Dame, 15
7. Adrian Bak, Penn State, 14
8. Sean Buckley, St. John's, 14
9. Valentin Staller, Harvard, 13
10. Max Murphy, Stanford, 13
22. Mel Rodriguez, COLUMBIA, 5
1. Ariel DeSmet, Notre Dame, 18 - gold
2. Miles Chamley-Watson, Penn State, 21 - silver
3. Daniel Cohen, Air Force, 18 & David Willette, Penn State, 19 - bronze
5. Reggie Bentley, Notre Dame, 16
6. Nat Botwinick, Yale, 15
7. Turner Caldwell, Stanford, 14
8. Alexander Mills, Princeton, 13
9. Alex Pensler, COLUMBIA, 13
10. Zain Shaito, Ohio State, 13
16. Bo Charles, COLUMBIA, 9
1. Marat Israelian, St. John's, 16 - gold
2. Jonathan Yergler, Princeton, 16 - silver
3. Marco Canevari, Ohio State, 16, & Peter Cohen, Yale, 15 - bronze
5. Igor Tolkachev, Ohio State, 14
6. Mike Raynis, Harvard, 14
7. Jonathan Parker, Duke, 13
8. Daniel Trapani, Air Force, 13
9. Alen Hadzic, COLUMBIA, 13
10. Jacob Wischnia, Penn, 13
Alen Hadzic and Alex Pensler (honorable mention)