The Harvard women's fencing team placed second in the NCAA Northeast Regionals Saturday in South Bend, Ind., qualifying for next weekend's national championships for the first time in the squad's nine-year history.
After defeating Wellesley in the semi-final round, the Crimson was overpowered by Columbia, 9-3, in the finals.
Sophomore Captain Penelope Papailias qualified for the second consecutive year in individual competition, finishing in fourth place behind Columbia's Caitlin Bilodeaux and Yale's tandem of Jessica Yu and Susan Kimball-Cook.
The regional competition featured seven teams from the northeast region divided into two pools. Third-seeded Harvard was pooled together with Yale, MIT, and Brandeis while Columbia, Wellesley, and St. Johns comprised the other division.
Harvard swept through its three preliminary-round opponents, knocking off Yale (9-7), MIT (9-6), and Brandeis (9-5). Following those victories, the Crimson faced fourth-seeded Wellesley in the semi-finals.
The Crimson staged a furious final-round rally, recovering from an 8-4 deficit to take the final four bouts and tie the match, 8-8.
By virtue of the league's tie-breaking format, Harvard was declared the winner, having outscored Wellesley, 62-56, on touches.
Leading 8-4 after three rounds, Wellesley sent up its three top fencers to lead off the final round, needing just one more victory to clinch the match.
But one by one, the Wellesley fencers failed to capture the necessary bout.
First, Crimson freshman Michelle Kosch--winless up to that point--edged Wellesley's Stephanie Ewing, 5-3.
In what was probably the biggest win of the Crimson comeback, freshman Amy Neuhardt, the Crimson's number four fencer, upset Wellesley's number one fencer, Melissa Sparks, in a close 5-4 bout.
No Other Way
With the Crimson behind in both the score (8-6) and touches (55-52), the only way Harvard could complete the rally was for Papailias to win over Wellesley's number two player, Grace Bai.
Papailias (14-4 on the day) did just that, slashing Bai, 5-0, to give Harvard the lead in touches--although it still trailed, 8-7, on the scoreboard.
Sophomore Kristina Perkin completed the heroic efforts begun by her teammates with a 5-1 victory in the round's final match.
In the finals, Columbia easily defeated the Crimson, 9-3, to capture first place. The Lions never trailed Harvard and were never really threatened.
The only bright spot in the Crimson attack was a win by substitute Amanda Leness, who registered a 5-4 victory over Amy Manges.
Yale defeated Wellesley to take third place in the tourney and nab the third and final qualifying spot for the NCAA championships.