GREENWICH VILLAGE, N.Y. -- Columbia's men and women's sabre squads each earned silver medals, and women's epee gained a bronze, to lead the Lion fencers in the second annual United States Collegiate Weapon Squad Championships at NYU's Coles Gymnasium Sunday.
Following the success of last year's inaugural weapon squad championships, the brainchild of NYU head coach Steve Mormando, fencing teams descended on Coles Gymnasium, from as far away as Michigan (Wayne State), Illinois (Northwestern), Indiana (Notre Dame) and Ohio (Ohio State), and as close as the island of Manhattan (Columbia, CCNY, Yeshiva and NYU).
The presence of so many fencers, plus dozens of fans, overflowed the spacious Coles facility. Nevertheless, several teams stood out. One of those was Columbia.
In addition to its two silver-medal squads, women's epee was third, tied with St. John's; men's epee was fifth; women's foil was sixth; and men's foil, handicapped by an injury to a key fencer, finished 12th.
"Today's competition was great preparation for the NCAA's," head coach Michael Aufrichtig said. "The chance to face teams like Ohio State, Notre Dame and Princeton. We were able to try things in this format."
Ah, the format. It followed the usual dual-meet pattern of five-touch bouts, but the totals aggregated, working toward a bar set at 45 touches, and trailing athletes could continue fencing, even after their opponents had reached five touches.
"It was different," men's sabre fencer Michael Josephs said. "You need a really deep team to compete in this format."  
Men's sabre was the Lions' most tightly-contested weapon.

Seeded first in the 16-team field, the Lions started the day with a 45-8 win over Yeshiva, then beat 9th-seeded Yale in a hard-fought match, 45-37. Trailing the Bulldogs, 15-12, after three bouts, Columbia took a 20-17 lead when Mel Rodriguez won by 8-2 over Adam Fields. The Lions sealed the win with three victories in the next four bouts, Will Spear by 5-0 and 5-4, and Josephs by a 5-4 score.  

In the semifinal round, Columbia took a two-touch lead over Notre Dame when Rodriguez beat Jason Choy, 5-3, and expanded it to as much as nine, 30-21. The final tally saw Columbia on top, 45-38. Penn won the other semifinal, 45-31 over St. John's, to set up an Ivy League final, the Lions against the Quakers.
The final may have been the closest competition of the championship round. Neither team could gain more than a two-touch edge for much of it. Michael Josephs gave Columbia a 35-32 lead with a 7-2 victory over Sean Turner, only to see Penn rally for a 40-36 lead in the next bout. Will Spear won the final bout, 7-5, but not enough, as Penn won by two, 45-43.
The Columbia women's sabre squad also advanced to the championship bout.
The Lions opened with a 45-11 win over CCNY, as first-year Charlotte McGuckin joined Sammy Roberts and Essane Diedro in the lineup. McGuckin won three bouts by 5-1 scores, her first varsity triumphs. In the quarterfinals, Columbia routed Brown, 45-22.
Facing Penn in the semifinals, the Lions anticipated a close match. The Quakers took a 5-3 lead, only to see it vanish, as Sammy Roberts beat Laura Paragano, 7-0; Essane Diedro beat Laura Barger, 5-0; and Loweye Diedro top Paragano, 5-1. Leading 20-6, Columbia went on to a 45-26 decision.
Princeton took a 10-4 lead in the championship bout, and increased the margin to as much as 12, 30-18, en route to a 45-35 victory.
Behind the veteran duo of junior Lydia Kopecky and sophomore Katya English, women's epee figured to do quite well.
And the Lions started superbly, defeating Fairleigh Dickinson, 45-35 after a first-round bye, as they held a double-figure margin most of the match. English had a 7-2 victory over Annie Kazarian.
In the quarterfinals, Columbia broke open a close match with North Carolina. Consecutive victories by Natalie Gegan (5-1), Kopecky (5-2), and Gegan again (5-0) increased the lead from 20-18 to 35-21. The final was 45-27.
The semifinals pitted the Lions against a familiar foe, Princeton's Tigers. The first two bouts actually ended in scoreless ties, but Princeton opened up a big lead in the next three, 6-2, 3-1, and 10-6 decisions, taking a 19-9 lead. After a 6-3 win by Gegan, Columbia was within seven, 33-26, but the Tigers held on for a 45-34 victory.
Princeton then beat Northwestern, 45-30, for the title, as Columbia tied for third with St. John's.
Men's epee beat Brandeis, 45-24, but lost to Ohio State, 45-36, to finish fifth -- exactly where it was seeded. The sixth-seeded women's foil squad beat NYU, 45-15, only to lose to Northwestern, 45-36, and placed sixth.
The foil men's team was hit hard when All-Ivy League standout Alex Pensler suffered an injury and had to be pulled from the lineup. Without him, they lost to NYU, 45-30, and were eliminated.
Still, most of the Columbia squads had acquitted themselves well. "This tournament is further proof," Michael Josephs said. "Before the season, our men's team wasn't even ranked in the top 10. Now we have proven we have a good team."
Columbia next takes to the strips in the all-important NCAA Northeast Regionals, March 11 at Boston College. It is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m.
Today's results:

United States Collegiate Weapon Squad Championships
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Jerome Coles Gymnasium, NYU, Greenwich Village, N.Y.


1. Princeton; 2. COLUMBIA; 3. Northwestern & Penn; 5. North Carolina; 6. NYU; 7. Fairleigh Dickinson

Columbia (seeded 1)
W CCNY, 45-11
W Brown, 45-22
W Penn, 45-26
L Princeton, 45-35
Place: 2nd

1. Princeton; 2. Notre Dame; 3. Northwestern & St. John's; 5. Penn; 6. COLUMBIA; 7. Wayne State

Columbia (6)
W NYU, 45-15
L Northwestern, 45-36
Place: 6th

1. Princeton; 2. Northwestern; 3. COLUMBIA & St. John's; 5. Penn; 6. North Carolina; 7. Sacred Heart

Columbia (3)
W Fairleigh Dickinson, 45-35
W North Carolina, 45-27
L Princeton, 45-34
Place: 3rd


1. Penn; 2. COLUMBIA; 3. St. John's & Notre Dame; 5. Princeton; 6. North Carolina; 7. Yale

Columbia (1)
W Yeshiva, 45-8
W Yale, 45-37
W Notre Dame, 45-38
L Penn, 45-43
Place: 2nd

1. Notre Dame; 2. Penn; 3. Sacred Heart & St. John's; 5. Princeton; 6. NYU; 7. Brandeis

Columbia (12)
L NYU, 45-30
Place: 12th

1. St. John's; 2. Princeton; 3. Sacred Heart & Ohio State; 5. COLUMBIA; 6. Penn; 7. North Carolina

Columbia (5)
W Brandeis, 45-24
L Ohio State, 45-36
Place: 5th