PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- In a second-day effort marked by incredible highs and disappointing lows, the Columbia men's fencing team earned a share of the 2014 Ivy League Championship Sunday, its 4-1 record matching that of 2013 champion Harvard. The crown was the Lions' first since the 2008 men and women's squads each won sole possession of first.
The Columbia women finished third, their 4-2 record trailing Princeton, 6-0, and Harvard, 5-1. The Lions had finished second in the Ivy League in each of the past five seasons.
Columbia Fencing had enjoyed a superb season, the men attaining and holding the nation's No. 1 ranking, the women initially ranked sixth, then moving up to fifth. But they faced formidable hurdles in Harvard and Princeton, as well as Yale, Sunday.
The Crimson was the defending Ivy League men's champion, ranked fifth nationally, while Princeton had captured the 2010 and 2012 titles. The Tiger women were going for their fifth consecutive Ivy crown, and were seeking to defend the 2013 NCAA combined Men's and Women's Championship.
Harvard was first up for the Lions, at 10 a.m. in Brown's Olney-Margolies Athletic Center. Right from the start, it was a hotly-contested event.
On the men's side, Will Spear and Geoffrey Loss posted victories in men's sabre to offset Michael Josephs' opening 5-4 loss. Then the Crimson won two of three in foil and swept epee for a resounding 6-3 lead.
Josephs and Loss carved out wins for a 6-5 tally, but Alexander Ryjik topped Spear, 5-3, overcoming the Lions' 3-1 lead with four straight touches. Harvard topped both foil and epee in Round Two for a narrow 10-8 lead.
Although the Columbia women lost their first bout in sabre, freshman Brittin Boenning put her team on the board with an impressive 5-2 decision over Kristin Lee. The Crimson won the next sabre bout, though, then went 2-1 in the next round to put up a 4-2 margin.
Freshmen Mason Speta and Vivian Rand won their opening epee bouts against Harvard, but saw their momentum cease, as the Crimson won the next four bouts. Only foil kept Columbia in the game, winning four of six in Rounds One and Two behind Jackie Dubrovich, Margaret Lu, and freshman Sara Taffel, substituting for the injured Nzingha Prescod. As their male counterparts did, the Lion women trailed by the same 10-8 score entering Round Three.
The Harvard women quickly opened the margin, sweeping all three sabre bouts for an overall 13-8 lead. But foil struck back with three of their own -- Taffel by 5-3 over Liana Yamin, Lu by 5-2 against Hali Nelson, and Dubrovich with a decisive 5-3 win over ex-NCAA champion Alex Kiefer.
In epee, junior Diana Tsinis upset Emma Vaggo, 5-3. Columbia could not sustain the momentum, though, Speta and Rand dropping bouts as the Crimson prevailed, 14-13.
On the men's side, Loss and Josephs posted victories to draw the Lions even at 10-10. The heavily-Columbia crowd swelled and the enthusiasm heightened, but Will Spear lost to Eric Arzoian, 5-2, giving Harvard the lead again at 11-10.
Then sophomore Justin Wan, struggling throughout the tournament, reignited the crowd with a clutch 5-3 win over Nikolas Simko to tie the match at 11-all, only to see Drew Johnston lose in foil, 5-4. It was untied again, Harvard needing only two more bouts for the victory.
So quickly, it was just one, as Adam Mahieu was tripped up by Michael Woo, 5-1. Columbia, which had fought so hard, was down 13-11, just one bout from defeat!
Jake Hoyle knew what was at stake. "I knew it was 13-11," the sophomore from Philadelphia said. "I knew I had to win."
Hoyle was facing Michael Raynis, a long-time foe. He gave up the first touch to the Harvard senior, earned the second, fell behind, 2-1. Suddenly Hoyle struck, tying the bout at 2-2, as the onlookers roared. Epee's double-touch rule made it 3-3, then 4-4.
"In four-four bouts, I've always been able to score on a [particular type of move]," Hoyle explained. "I used it in 4-4 situations against St. John's this year, and in last year's Ivy Championships." As the bout progressed," he said, "I had the action planned. I had to be patient."
With the bout tied at 4-4, Hoyle sprung the trap, and hit. Columbia had pulled to within 13-12.
They took their places on adjacent strips for the final two bouts, the bouts that would decide the match. Sophomore Harry Bergman, representing Columbia in foil, was on one strip, against junior Brian Kaneshige. The epee strip featured Lion sophomore Brian Ro against Harvard freshman Alexander "Ace" Eldeib.
The crowd arranged itself within view of either strip; Columbia coach Michael Aufrichtig found a chair that looked upon both fencing strips. He sat there, looking calmer than he undoubtedly was.
The two bouts proceeded virtually together, as if they had been choreographed. Both bouts quickly went to 2-2, then 3-2, the Lion taking the lead in each.
But the Crimson refused to yield. Kaneshige scored a touch for a 3-3 tie, then another to lead, 4-3. Ro maintained his lead over Eldeib with a double touch, still up at 4-3.
Just as cobras strike, so then did Eldeib, tying up Ro at 4-4, and Bergman, tying his bout too at 4-4. One touch would do it for Harvard, two touches could give the match to Columbia. Two touches. Two. The air was taut with tension.
Brian Ro, however, wasn't counting.
"I didn't know the exact [team] score," he confessed. "I just relaxed and tried to fence like any other bout." He paused and reflected. "I thought that when Ace tied it at 4-4, I pulled my arm back. I told myself not to do that again."
You could get an argument from any of the onlookers, but it appeared that Bergman struck first. He got the fifth touch in his foil bout, and a millisecond later, Ro scored in epee.
The crowd didn't need to see the actual touches. All they had to see was a mob of delirious Columbia fencers launching themselves simultaneously into the air, their strident roar echoing off the athletic center's walls.
And Brian Ro? He didn't know why they were so excited.
"I didn't know what the team score was," he recalled. "I didn't know we had won. I was hoping [the victory] would enable us to continue the match."
And continue the Lions did, Shaking off the elation of the win, Columbia returned to the strips against Yale and defeated the Bulldogs, 20-7 on the men's side, 19-8 on the women's.
Just one opponent was left for the Lions, but it was the vaunted Princeton Tigers.
Princeton's women got off to a fast start against the Lions. The Tiger foil and epee squads both won two of three, and sabre went 3-0, giving them a 7-2 lead after one round.
The Tigers increased the margin in Round Two, as sabre and epee each went to 5-1, and Columbia Foil was just at a 3-3 impasse. In the final round, the Lion foilists won three straight for a 6-3 record, but sabre and epee each provided Princeton with 8-1 marks, for an overall 19-8 victory, the Tigers' fifth straight Ivy League women's crown.
The Lion foil trio of Margaret Lu, Jackie Dubrovich and Sara Taffel was each 2-1, while the other two victories came from Sarah Yee in sabre, 5-4 over Desirae Major, and Mason Speta in epee, 5-1 over 2012 Olympian Susie Scanlan.
The men's match was far more competitive.
As it often had done in the Ivy Round Robin, Columbia fell behind early, in this case 5 to 4. The Lions fought back in Round Two. Bergman and Mathieu earned foil wins, while Wan and Ro scored epee triumphs. Jake Hoyle just missed an epee sweep when he was edged by Alex House, 5-4.
Mahieu's win was a fiercely-fought rally from 2-1 down to a 5-2 victory, and Ro topped Luke Politi, 5-4. Columbia could have taken the lead, but House edged Hoyle, 5-4.
Now it was Columbia's turn to take leads, and Princeton's to draw even once again. Freshman Chris Ahn put the Lions up, 10-9, with a 5-3 sabre win over Peter Pak, and Geoff Loss's 5-2 triumph over Michael Wiest made it 11-9. Philip Dershwitz foiled the Lions' hopes of a three-bout margin, however, with a 5-4 win over Will Spear in a bout tied four times, at 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, and 4-4.
Still leading 11-10, the Lions went up 12-10 when Justin Wan rallied from a 4-3 deficit with two straight touches and a 5-4 lead. Could they up the lead to 13-10?
Uh-uh. Harry Bergman lost a bitterly-contested 5-4 bout in overtime, and Drew Johnston, his foil partner, lost to Rodney Chen, 5-2, evening the match once more at 12-12.
Would the Lions go up again? They were running out of real estate, as the saying goes.
Jake Hoyle fell to Jack Hudson, 5-4, giving Princeton a 13-12 lead, its first lead since the first round. As fingers were crossed and recrossed, Adam Mahieu took the foil strip against Michael Dudey.
Mahieu posted two of the first three touches, for a 2-1 lead. But Dudey hit three straight, netting a 4-2 margin. Adam drew Columbia within 4-3, but Dudey hit the next touch, clinching both the bout, 5-3, and the match. Moments later, Brian Ro beat Alex House in epee, 5-1, to make the final score 14-13 yet again, but this time in Princeton's favor.
The Tigers captured the Ivy League women's crown, but their heroics against Columbia would give them no more than a third-place tie in the men's competition with Penn, both deadlocked at 3-2. Columbia just missed sole possession of first place, finishing in a tie for first with Harvard, both 4-1.
The first-place finish furnished Harvard with its second straight men's title, and Columbia with its first Ivy title since 2008. As they did this year, Columbia and Harvard tied for first in the 2007 season.
Several Columbia fencers earned individual honors in the 2014 Championships. They were headed by Geoffrey Loss, the sophomore men's sabre fencer from Laguna Beach, Calif., who was chosen the Men's Fencing Most Outstanding Performer in a vote of the league's head coaches. Another Lion sabre fencer, Will Spear, earned that honor in 2012.
Six Columbia athletes earned first team All-Ivy League honors, including Loss; men's foilist Adam Mathieu; women's foilists Margaret Lu and Sara Taffel; and epeeist Brian Ro.
Three Lions made second team All-Ivy League: Jackie Dubrovich, women's foil; Harry Bergman, men's foil; and Jake Hoyle, men's epee.
Several Columbia fencers will next travel to the National Junior Olympics, February 14-17 in Portland, Ore. The entire squad is slated to meet NYU and Sacred Heart in an as-yet unscheduled makeup of the February 5 Historical Meet, also involving Vassar, which was canceled due to snow. It will be held on Morningside Heights.