A historic season for Columbia fencing will come to a close this weekend at the NCAA Fencing Championships.
The NCAA's fencing committees determined that the Lions, who won the Ancient Eight title on the men's side and finished third on the women's side, will send three épéeists, four foilists, and three sabrists to the competition, hosted by Ohio State.
Fencers in each weapon work their way through a bracket for individual titles. The team title is determined by point totals, with each individual victory earning one point. A 12-person Princeton team narrowly took the title in 2013 over 12-person Notre Dame. Columbia's last titles came in 1992 and 1993.
As a team, the Light Blue will face an uphill battle to compete for the NCAA championship. Only 10 Lions qualified for NCAAs. This year, Ohio State, Princeton, and Penn State had the maximum 12 fencers qualify, and several other schools are sending 11 competitors.
Moreover, on the women's side, Columbia will be missing superstar junior foilist Nzingha Prescod and sophomore foilist Margaret Lu, who missed qualifying at regionals because they were competing at World Cup events.
Nonetheless, sophomore foilist Harry Bergman said the team is confident in its chances.
“Not only me, but the team has been fencing really well lately,” said Bergman. “We're all feeling pretty good going into the tournament.”
The 144-fencer field features four returning Lions from the 2013 tournament. Last year, sophomore Jackie Dubrovich finished second in women's foil, while junior sabrist Will Spear and sophomore épéeist Brian Ro finished fifth and sixth, respectively. Sophomore foilist Adam Mathieu also will be returning after a 16th-place finish last year.
In addition to the returning fencers, four Light Blue sophomores—Bergman, épéeist Jake Hoyle, and sabrists Geoffrey Loss and Sarah Yee—all competed last year at regionals and narrowly missed qualification for NCAAs.
“I was so bummed out last year that I didn't make it,” Bergman said. “Going into regionals this year, I knew that I really needed to do it for myself, and it felt really great to be able to pull it off.”
A pair of first-years round out the Columbia contingent. Mason Speta will fence épée after a 47-24 individual season. Foilist Sara Taffel also held more than her own this season with a 42-5 record.
Light Blue head coach Michael Aufrichtig said Bergman, Hoyle, and the other less experienced fencers should be fine in their first NCAA championships.
“The great thing about these athletes is that even though it's their first NCAAs, they've all competed in World Cup competitions and national championships, and they've done very well in these types of competitions,”Aufrichtig said. “It is a tough competition, but I think they're more than ready.”
Women's fencing kicks off on Thursday at 9:30 a.m., with the championship bouts Friday at 1:30 p.m. The men's portion starts at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday with the championship bouts on Sunday at 1:45 p.m. ESPN3 will air a livestream of the semifinal and championship bouts.
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