COLUMBUS, OHIO — With a strong final-day performance that netted 18 victories in three rounds, the Columbia men and women's fencing team overtook Penn to finish seventh in the 2011 NCAA Fencing Championships at Ohio State's French Field House.
The Lions, sporting one of the tournament's youngest teams, scored 94 victories in the four-day tournament, edging the Quakers for seventh by three victories (points). They ranked third among Ivy League schools, trailing Princeton, fourth with 150 victories, and Harvard, sixth with 137.
Notre Dame won the NCAA championship with 174 victories, its first title since 2005. Penn State, which had captured the 2009 and 2010 crowns, was second with 168, followed by St. John's, 155, and Princeton. The host Ohio State Buckeyes were fifth with 148.
Columbia and Penn were trailed by Duke (9th, 74), Stanford (10th, 72), Northwestern (11th, 52) and Yale (12th, 50). Thirty colleges competed in the tournament. The Lions' seventh place matched their 2010 finish, when they scored 98 points.
Columbia won 40 bouts in the two-day men's portion of the NCAA's to gain 10th place, but the women, competing during the last two days, added 54 victories in the surge to seventh place. Epee and sabre each contributed 23 wins to the 54, and foil, represented by just one person, had eight.
"Columbia's performance at this year's NCAA Championships was one of the most satisfying I've experienced in all my years as a coach," head coach George Kolombatovich noted. "No, not in terms of a high placing, although there is nothing wrong with seventh when you consider the level of the talent in collegiate fencing today, but rather how our team, the youngest in the tournament, responded to the intensity of the NCAA's."
"There's no tournament, nationally nor internationally," he continued, "whose format is like the NCAA's, with 23 five-touch bouts in seven rounds spread over two days. It's almost non-stop fencing, and we handled it very well — the mental aspects, as well as the fencing itself.
"I was very pleased with our newcomers to the NCAA's — all four men's fencers, and two women's fencers. As intense as the competition was, they never gave in, fighting for both our team and their individual success until the final bout.
"I'm looking forward to coming back to next year's NCAA's with fencers who are vastly improved, and know how to win in the NCAA format.
Sophomore Lydia Kopecky tied for seventh in women's epee, the best finish by any Lion in 2011. She won 13 of 23 bouts to tie Penn's Amrit Bhinder. Her epee teammate, first-year Katya English, went 10-13 to place 18th.
"I'm really proud of our team," Kopecky said, looking back on the tournament. "For a really young team to do so well. We had so many All-Americans."
It was the second trip to the NCAA Championships for Kopecky, who also competed as a first-year in 2010.
However, she noted, "last year I had the stomach flu, and didn't have a good tournament. This year, my goal was to finish in the top eight and make All-American."
Kopecky was confident she could reach those goals. "I felt the women's epee field last year was tougher," she explained. "No one seemed unbeatable this year. I was much more confident coming into this year's tournament."
The Chicago resident fenced well both Saturday and Sunday. Even losing the first day to the Notre Dame duo of Courtney Hurley, who went on to win the NCAA title, and Ewa Nelip, didn't deter her.
"I pulled myself together after those bouts," she said. "I stayed calm and focused." Lydia was even more focused, and more confident Sunday. "I knew I was going to win. Even when the bout came down to a last touch, I knew I was going to get it."
The Lion fencer saved the best for last, a 5-0 victory over Northwestern's Dina Bazarbayeva in the final round.
"I usually have trouble with her," Kopecky said. "Five-nothing. That was a great bout!" She also had big wins over Duke's Emily D'Agostino, by a 5-4 score, noting how tough D'Agostino usually is for her, and Ohio State star Caroline Piasecka. She could have swept the Ohio State epeeists, but lost to Katarzyna Dabrowa, 5-2. "I was beating her until I made a silly mistake, and I ended up losing."
Her epee teammate, Katya English, also had goals this season, but exceeded them when she qualified for the NCAA Championships. Just a few hours into the competition, though, she was wondering if she should have come.
"This was definitely one of the hardest, if not the hardest, tournaments I've ever fenced in," the first-year said. "Every [opponent] is really good. You have to come to every bout with a fresh head. It's practically more mental than physical."
English soon hit her stride, in part thanks to her father, Rob, who attended both sessions. He hadn't seen much of Katya's fencing this season, since the family lives in southern California.
"It was really good," she said, "to have someone in your corner."
Katya had given a hint of things to come Saturday when she defeated the two Ohio State internationals, Piasecka and Dabrowa, the first time she beat either one. Her Sunday fencing really caught fire in Round Six, against Notre Dame.
Facing NCAA champion Courtney Hurley, Katya broke a 3-3 tie with a major move, "a really great leg touch," as she noted, "with 30 seconds to go. Then I had a great lunge [leading] to a 5-3 win." It was one of only four losses Hurley incurred on the way to the title.
English nearly defeated the other Notre Dame epeeist, Ewa Nelip. "I was up 4-3, but she tied it with just six seconds to go, and then won in overtime, 5-4. That took a lot out of me, knowing that I could have won."
English won two of three in her final round, defeating Ashley Titan of Stanford and fellow Ivy Leaguer Tasha Garcia of Yale.
The bout with Garcia, Katya's final one of the tourney, was a battle. She trailed the Yalie 2-1 before scoring three straight touches for a 4-2 lead. Garcia came back to within 4-3, and Katya had to pull it out in the closing seconds. With associate coach Dr. Aladar Kogler and her father offering vocal support, Katya took a 5-4 decision when the official awarded a double touch.
The epeeists weren't the only ones with noteworthy victories Sunday. Women's sabre boasted two Top 12 Columbians, junior co-captain Sammy Roberts, who was 11th with a 12-11 record, and sophomore Loweye Diedro, 12th with an 11-12 slate. Roberts had a significant win in sabre when she defeated Eliza Stone of Princeton, 5-4, scoring the final three touches. Stone went on to finish second.
Diedro, competing in her first NCAA's, notched two major wins Sunday, besting defending NCAA champion Caroline Vloka of Harvard, 5-3, and Madeline Oliver of Yale, 5-4. Diedro scored the first four touches against Vloka, withstood a rally that closed the bout to 4-3, then netted the winning touch. Deadlocked at 3-3 against Oliver, Loweye fell behind, 4-3, but reeled off two straight touches for the victory. She also beat a nationally-ranked first-year, Diamond Wheeler of Princeton, by a 5-2 score.
The final results:
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Final)
Sunday, March 27, 2011
French Field House, The Ohio State University
1. Notre Dame 174; 2. Penn State 168; 3. St. John's 155; 4. Princeton 150; 5. Ohio State 148; 6. Harvard 137; 7. COLUMBIA 94; 8. Penn 91; 10. Stanford 72; 9. Duke 74; 11. Northwestern 52; 12. Yale 50; 13. Brown, Temple & Air Force 39; 16. Sacred Heart 7; 17. Cornell 19; 18. Vassar 18; 19. North Carolina 16; 20. Brandeis 15; 21. MIT & Wayne State 11; 23. Boston College & NYU 9; 25. Detroit Mercy and Drew, 8; 27. Cleveland State and UC San Diego 7; 29. Hunter 6; 30. Cal Tech 3.
Individual Standings (top 10 and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Rebecca Ward, Duke, 19 - gold medal
2. Eliza Stone, Princeton, 20 - silver
3. Caroline Vloka, Harvard, 19, & Eileen Hassett, Notre Dame, 17 - bronze
5. Margarita Tschomakova, Ohio State, 16
6. Dagmara Wozniak, St. John's, 15
7. Monica Aksamit, Penn State, 15
8. Anna Limbach, St. John's, 14
9. Lian Osier, Notre Dame, 12
10. Diamond Wheeler, Princeton, 12
11. Sammy Roberts, COLUMBIA, 12
12. Loweye Diedro, COLUMBIA, 11
1. Alexandra Kiefer, Harvard, 18 - gold
2. Eve Levin, Princeton, 16 - silver
3. Doris Willette, Penn State, 20, & Evgeniya Kirpicheva, St. John's, 17 - bronze
5. Irina Koroleva, St. John's, 16
6. Hyun-Kyung Yuh, Princeton, 15
7. Alyssa Lomuscio, Temple, 15
8. Hayley Reese, Notre Dame, 15
9. Allison Henvick, Ohio State, 14
10. Dayana Sarkisova, Northwestern, 14
19. D'Meca Homer, COLUMBIA, 8
1. Courtney Hurley, Notre Dame, 19 - gold
2. Noam Mills, Harvard, 21 - silver
3. Katarzyna Dabrowa, Ohio State, 19, & Margherita Guzzi Vincenti, Penn State, 17 - bronze
5. Francesca Bassa, Stanford, 14
6. Dina Bazarbayeva, Northwestern, 14
7. Lydia Kopecky, COLUMBIA, & Amrit Bhinder, Penn, 13
9. Ewa Nelip, Notre Dame, 12
10. Emily D'Agostino, Duke, 12
18. Katya English, COLUMBIA, 10
Second team: Lydia Kopecky
Honorable mention: Sammy Roberts, Loweye Diedro