With 76 victories (points), Columbia was just three behind seventh-place Penn in the tournament, which has one day to go. Taking over after the men's fencers had netted 40 victories in the first two days, the women went for 36 in just one day.
Well aware of Columbia's place in the standings, the five women's competitors came to Ohio State's French Field House Saturday with a set goal.
"All of us," said co-captain and sabre fencer Sammy Roberts, "wanted to pull the team up from tenth place. It was not everyone's primary goal, but I think it will happen."
Roberts, a collegiate fencing veteran, has competed in the NCAA Championships before. But the intensity and pressure of the tournament field, featuring the best college sabre fencers in the nation, can be overwhelming. It prompted Roberts to start the day poorly.
"I started out putting too much pressure on myself," she lamented. "There definitely was pressure because I'm a veteran. It caused me to lose." It was a 5-2 loss to a Hunter College fencer that snapped Roberts out of it.
She counseled her teammates as well as herself.
"I told them that this experience is not like any other time in your career … I wanted to keep them from freaking out."
Roberts lost three of her first seven bouts, before she began to win. She ended the afternoon with nine victories in 14 bouts, placing her seventh in the women's sabre field, four behind defending NCAA champion Caroline Vloka of Harvard.
Her most prized wins? It was a tie, she said, between triumphs over Dagmara Wozniak of St. John's and Alison Miller of Ohio State.
"It was nice to beat Wozniak," Roberts said. "We're friends; I practice with her a lot. Miller had been beating me all season." She topped Wozniak, 5-3, and Miller by a 5-1 score.
Not content to rest when her fencing came to an end — sabre matches go much faster than foil or epee bouts — Roberts went in search of her teammates who were still on the strips, in order to offer them support.
She also offered support to her fellow Columbia sabre fencer, Loweye Diedro, who was reeling from her first NCAA tournament.
"People tell you what it's going to be like," Diedro said, "but as soon as you step on the strip, it's not like anything you've ever experienced before."
The shock seemed to spur some unwanted adrenalin in Loweye. "I started too fast," she said, "I was fencing too quick." Diedro lost five bouts by 5-4 scores, coming just one touch from victories. None hurt more than a bout against Notre Dame All-American Eileen Hassett in which Loweye led 4-2 before giving up three straight touches.
In all, Diedro lost five of her first seven bouts before calming down and netting some wins. She teamed with Roberts to close the day with a flourish.
The two sabre fencers won a combined nine of 12 bouts in the last two rounds, with each recording victories over Miller, Wozniak, and Brown's Caitlin Taylor. Although Loweye lost to St. John's Anna Limbach and Air Force's Heather Nelson in the 12 bouts, Sammy got revenge by beating both of them. In turn, when Roberts fell to Margarita Tschomakova of Ohio State, 5-1, Diedro defeated the Russian woman, 5-4.
The duo's epee teammates, Lydia Kopecky and Katya English, were even more successful, winning 15 of 28 bouts. Kopecky was 8-6 and English went 7-7.
Although not fencing together — they usually competed on neighboring strips — the two presented formidable barriers to their opponents.
Kopecky defeated both Penn epeeists, plus fencers from Princeton, Ohio State, Harvard and St. John's, among others. She dropped a 5-4 decision to Notre Dame's Courtney Hurley, but rallied for 5-4 wins over Felicia Sun of Harvard, Chantal Montrose of Temple and Hannah Safford of Princeton.
English swept Ohio State's Caroline Piasecka and Katarzyna Dabrowa, plus wins over women representing Harvard, St. John's, Penn, Penn State and Northwestern.
Columbia's lone foil fencer in the NCAA's, sophomore D'Meca Homer, also started slowly. She won her last three bouts to finish a solid 7-7.
Homer posted wins over both Brown foilists, plus one each from Cornell, Stanford and UC San Diego. In the final round of the day, she defeated highly-skilled Oksana Dmytruk of Ohio State and Irina Koroleva of St. John's, both by 5-3 scores, while narrowly missing a victory over another St. John's athlete, Evgeniya Kirpicheva.
Columbia completes the women's section of the tournament Sunday with three rounds.
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day Three)
Saturday, March 26, 2011
French Field House, The Ohio State University
1. Notre Dame 139; 2. Penn State 133; 3. St. John's 123; 4. Ohio State & Princeton 114; 6. Harvard 111; 7. Penn 79; 8. COLUMBIA 76; 9. Stanford 62; 10. Duke 60; 11. Yale 43; 12. Air Force 37; 13. Northwestern 34; 14. Sacred Hart 27; 15. Brown 24; 16. Temple 23; 17. Vassar 18; 18. Cornell 16; 19. Brandeis 15; 20. Wayne State 11; 21. North Carolina 10; 22. Boston College and NYU 9; 24. Detroit Mercy, Drew and MIT, 8; 27. Cleveland State and UC San Diego 7; 29. Hunter 5; 30. Cal Tech 2.
Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Caroline Vloka, Harvard, 13
2. Eliza Stone, Princeton, 13
3. Margarita Tschomakova, Ohio State, 11
4. Eileen Hassett, Notre Dame, 11
7. Sammy Roberts, COLUMBIA, 9
15. Loweye Diedro, COLUMBIA, 5
1. Doris Willette, Penn State, 12
2. Alexandra Kiefer, Harvard, 12
3. Evgeniya Kirpicheva, St. John's, 11
4. Dayana Sarkisova, Northwestern, 10
14. D'Meca Homer, COLUMBIA, 7
1. Courtney Hurley, Notre Dame, 13
2. Noam Mills, Harvard, 12
3. Katarzyna Dabrowa, Ohio State, 12
4. Margherita Guzzi Vincenti, Penn State, 11
9. Lydia Kopecky, COLUMBIA, 8
13. Katya English, COLUMBIA, 7