Columbia’s men’s and women’s fencing teams will be competing at the Ivy League Championships on Saturday and Sunday at Princeton. This intense two-day event will be a difficult test for the young but talented Lions.
The program hopes to add to its 41 championships this weekend, when they will face some of the toughest teams in the country, including Harvard (No. 2 in men’s and No. 3 in women’s), Princeton (No. 6 in men’s and No. 4 in women’s), and Penn (No. 7 in men’s and No. 8 in women’s). The Tigers are the defending Ivy League Champion for both teams.
The Lions will arrive at Princeton without some of their best fencers from last season. The No. 6 women’s team, which finished second at Ivies last year, lost a pair of individual national champions. Daria Schneider CC ’10 graduated and Nicole Ross CC ’11 is taking a year off to train for the Olympics. Ross was the 2010 NCAA champion in foil and posted a tremendous record of 65-6 in 2009-2010. Schneider, who is now an assistant coach for the Lions, was the 2007 NCAA champion in sabre and recorded a very strong 34-8 record in 2009-2010.
On the men’s side, the No. 8 ranked team will be without 2008 sabre national champion and three-time all-American Jeff Spear CC ’10.
Because of the losses, the Light Blue has a combined 16 freshmen on its squad and no seniors. While the Lions are young, they have a great deal of potential. Some of their best returning fencers include junior sabre and co-captain Sammy Roberts, junior épée Neely Brandfield-Harvey, sophomore épée Lydia Kopecky, and junior épée and captain Sean Leahy.
The Lions are also fortunate enough to have two extremely talented freshmen in Nzingha Prescod and Alen Hadzic, who compete in foil and épée, respectively.
Coach George Kolombatovich has very high praise for Prescod. “She’s number one in the country,” he said. “She is a Pan-American champion and is ranked somewhere in the top 20 in the world. She is a complete fencer. She is someone who will probably win every bout she fences.”
Kolombatovich had similar admiration for Hadzic. “He is a very intense individual. That intensity carries over to practice and competition. He doesn’t like to lose at all,” Kolombatovich said. Hadzic participated in his first meet of the season for the Lions at the Historical Meet Plus on Wednesday and emerged with a strong 7-2 result.
His intensity and size make him very difficult to beat. “I’m 6-3. Using my height is a big part of it,” Hadzic said. “Reach definitely helps.”
“I think he will do well this weekend,” Kolombatovich said. “Both [Hadzic] and [freshman épéeist] Magnus Ferguson will very likely make all-Ivy and very likely will qualify for NCAAs.”
The Lions had a difficult schedule early on, including bouts against Notre Dame (No. 1 in men’s and women’s), Penn State (No. 4 in men’s and No. 2 in women’s), St. John’s (No. 3 in men’s and No. 5 in women’s), Ohio State (No. 5 in men’s and No. 10 in women’s) and Harvard. The high level of competition they saw throughout the season was good preparation for what they will face at Ivies.
Despite their record, Columbia is among the favorites—along with Princeton, Harvard, and Penn—to win this weekend. Kolombatovich didn’t want to make any predictions, however. “I wouldn’t even try to guess who comes out on top of those four schools,” he said.
The women hope to keep their momentum going at Princeton after sweeping NYU, Vassar, and Sacred Heart at the Historical Meet Plus at NYU on Wednesday.
“Success depends upon everyone doing their best. We have some fencers that are extremely strong and we need them to be consistent,” Kolombatovich said. “Be ready. Be in the moment. Then we’ll see what happens.”