Trio's Inspired Fencing Produces 28 Victories on First Day of NCAA Men's Competition
Although Columbia failed to qualify any foil fencers, and just one in epee, those who made the trip excelled on the first day of men's fencing. Junior Alen Hadzic won 11 of 12 after an 0-2 start to place second in men's epee with an 11-3 record, while two first-years, Will Spear and Michael Josephs, moved into third and 11th places, respectively in men's sabre.
Their collective efforts could not prevent Penn, which has a full contingent of six men, from leaping past the Lions into seventh with 93 points (wins). But Columbia's 81 points appeared safe from overtaking by Duke (9th, 57 points), Stanford (11th, 45), Yale (13th, 38) or Brown (14th, 34).
Northwestern and Temple are both well within range of the Lions -- the Wildcats 10th with 52 points and the Owls 12th with 40 -- but neither has a men's team, and will not be adding any more to those numbers.
The Columbia men's efforts thrilled head coach Michael Aufrichtig.
"This was a great day," he said. "Michael Josephs is fencing amazing, his best all season. He really brought it.
"Will Spear is not feeling well, but still was 10-4. He's been very solid, this is a great experience for him."
Aufrichtig, an epee fencer by trade -- he twice represented NYU in the NCAA men's epee competition -- could not hide his admiration for Alen Hadzic's performance.
"He lost his first two bouts to the two Ohio State fencers he is teamed with, Marco Canevari and Kristian Boyadzhiev, but came back to drop just one other. He fenced fantastic in those two losses, but was mature enough to just go on to his next bout."
Hadzic agreed with his coach, noting that the first day was better than last season's initial day.
"I won only four or five on the first day last year, because I got down on myself. Today, I should have beaten Kristian, I was up 3-0 and threw it away, and I could have beaten Marco. I was tied at 3-3, but lost 5-3."
With 24 fencers competing in each weapon at the NCAA's, competitors are grouped into trios known as "pods". Hadzic's grouping with the two Ohio State men proved very fortunate.
"It is really cool being paired with the Ohio State guys," he noted. "They are really intense, they help me with a lot of things. We coach each other in our own languages." Hadzic, who is Bosnian, though born in the United States, is fluent in slavic languages; Boyadzhiev lives in Bulgaria and Canevari is a resident of Italy.
Despite the losses, to men who would place first (Canevari) and fourth (Boyadzhiev) by the end of the day, Hadzic shook them off and rebounded. In the other portion of Round One, he and the Ohio Staters faced off against two Notre Dame stars, and one from Wayne State.
Hadzic took a 3-1 lead on ND's Michael Rossi, only to yield two touches for a 3-3 deadlock. With just 25 seconds to go in regulation time, and overtime looming, Hadzic took the lead with a touch, and clinched the 5-3 thriller on another touch seven seconds later, at 0:18!
He then beat Michael Ramlow of Wayne State, 5-0, punctuating the fifth touch with one of his characteristic "YEAH!"'s. Only James Kaull remained in the round.
Kaull, a U.S. World Team member, was a true test for the Lion. In the course of netting eight straight victories at last year's NCAA's, Hadzic had surprised Kaull with a 5-3 victory. This time, Kaull scored the first two touches and three of the first five. He was up on Hadzic 3-2 when you sensed a change in the Lion.
"Kaull changed [strategy]," Columbia women's epee All-American Lydia Kopecky noted. Sitting by the fencing strip, she saw Hadzic react.
"When Kaull did it, Alen recognized that, and completely changed his (Alen's) direction. That was very, very smart of Alen. He fenced a very, very smart bout."
Hadzic scored a touch to tie the bout at 3-3, then another for a 4-3 lead. Just six seconds later, he scored on Kaull again for a 5-3 victory. Alen's reaction? "YEEEEAH!!"
The win over Kaull proved a watershed moment for Hadzic, who explained that, "When I beat James, that was a good win to put me in a positive mood."
In the second round, he met and defeated two Penn State epeeists, rallying from a 4-3 deficit to beat Anthony Green, 5-4, and coming back from 0-2 and 2-2 to down Oliver Valdes, 5-3.
In a fierce battle, he fell behind Kian Ameli of Stanford, 2-1, then scored four of the next five touches for the 5-3 victory. Hadzic was off and running.
In Round 3, he went 3-0, including a 5-3 win over defending NCAA champion Marat Israelian of St. John's, then beat Israelian's teammate, Nicholas Vomero, 5-1. In his first meeting of the day with a fellow Ivy Leaguer, he beat Yale's Peter Cohen, 5-3.
The next round, the final one of the day, featured two more Ivy Leaguers, both from Penn, and Chase Houser of the Air Force Academy.
Alen's first opponent, Rene Gannon-O'Gara, proved to be one of his toughest. Tied at 1-1, the Quaker scored three straight touches for a 4-1 lead. A double touch made it 4-2, then Hadzic rallied to pull within 4-3. But anther double touch gave Gannon-O'Gara a 5-4 victory.
If the engine had stalled slightly, it now fired up on full throttle. Hadzic defeated Penn's Clifford Fishler in just 1:03, 5-2, and closed out his day with an overwhelming 5-0 defeat of Air Force's Houser, this in only 1:02. In a weapon known for low-scoring, time-consuming bouts, Hadzic had dispatched two men in just two minutes and five seconds!
"When Alen sees an opening, he goes for it," Kopecky explained.
While Hadzic was competing in epee, Spear and Josephs were several strips away in the sabre section of French Field House.
Although he hatched many of Hadzic's bouts, assistant coach Jeff Spear focused most of hs attention on the sabre fencers, including his brother, Will.
"Will wasn't feeling well," Jeff said, "but he was still fencing very well. He had two impressive comebacks for wins, from 4-1 to Philip Dershwitz of Princeton, and 4-2 to Eric Arzoian of Harvard." Both resulted in 5-4 Spear wins. He also beat men from Duke, Stanford, Sacred Heart and Notre Dame (5-4 over Kevin Hassett) in his 10-4 day.
Spear, a former NCAA sabre champion, was equally impressed with Michael Josephs.
"Michael fenced better than I've seen him all season," Jeff said. "He showed mental fortitude impressive for a first-year. THe NCAA is the hardest tournament I've ever fenced in; for Michael to be that strong mentally …"
Josephs defeated both Princeton sabre fencers, Robert Stone and Dershwitz, and both Stanford fencers by 5-2 scores. He also beat men from Duke, Brown and Wayne State. He lost close matches to two Notre Dame fencers, and to Harvard's Valentin Staller and Arzoian, although fencing well against each.
"I'm confident," Jeff Spear said, "that both Will and Michael will continue to do well tomorrow."
NCAA M&W Fencing Championships (Day Three)
Saturday, March 24, 2012
French Fieldhouse, The Ohio State University
1. Ohio State, 149 points (wins); 2. Princeton, 135; 3. Notre Dame, 130; 4. Penn State and St. John's, 122; 6. Harvard, 106; 7. Penn, 93; 8. COLUMBIA, 81; 9. Duke, 57; 10. Northwestern, 52; 11. Stanford, 45; 12. Temple, 40; 13. Yale, 38; 14. Brown, 34; 15. Cornell and Air Force, 18; 17. Sacred Heart, 17; 18. North Carolina, 11; 19. Boston College, 10; 21. NYU, 7; 22. Vassar, 6; 23. MIT, 5; 24. Brandeis, 4; 25. UC San Diego, 1
Individual Standings (leaders and Columbia fencers, with victories)
1. Max Stearns, Ohio State, 14
2. Aleksander Ochocki, Penn State, 10
3. Will Spear, COLUMBIA, 10
4. Nathaniel Benzimra, Yale, 9
5. Valentin Staller, Harvard, 8
6. Kevin Hassett, Notre Dame, 8
7. Marty Williams, SHU, 8
8. Adrian Bak, Penn State, 8
9. Philip Dershwitz, Princeton, 8
10. Sean Buckley, St. John's, 8
11. Michael Josephs, COLUMBIA, 7
1. Enzo Castellani, Notre Dame, 12
2. Alexander Mills, Princeton, 12
3. Zain Shaito, Ohio State, 11
4. Shiv Kachru, Yale, 10
5. Vidur Kapur, Penn, 10
6. Lucas Lin, Harvard, 10
7. Turner Caldwell, Stanford, 9
8. Reggie Bentley, Notre Dame, 9
9. Alex Chiang, Air Force, 8
10. Brian Kaneshige, Harvard, 7
Note: No Columbia qualifiers in Men's Foil
1. Marco Canevari, Ohio State, 13
2. Alen Hadzic, COLUMBIA, 11
3. Peregrine Badger, Harvard, 10
4. Kristian Boyadzhiev, Ohio State, 10
5. Jonathan Yergler, Princeton, 10
6. James Kaull, Notre Dame, 10
7. Kian Ameli, Stanford, 10
8. Edward Kelley, Princeton, 9
9. Rene Gannon-O'Gara, Penn, 8
10. Tristan Jones, Duke, 8