Nobody on the men’s fencing team remembers the last time Harvard beat Columbia. How could they? They weren’t even born then.
Prior to Sunday’s 14-13 upset of the Lions, the Crimson had not defeated Columbia since 1978.
“I don’t think they underestimated us,” said senior Derek Lindblom. “I think they badly underestimated us.”
How can you blame them? Over the past 16 years, Harvard is 1-63 against current Ivy teams.
During that stretch, the Crimson’s prolific losing streak was matched only by Columbia’s dominance. As the all-time winningest NCAA program with 13 national titles, Columbia has taken 11 Ivy titles in the past 16 years.
“It is the biggest surprise of the year in college fencing,” Lindblom said.
The Lions are the current two-time defending Ivy champions and they have not lost any of their top fencers since defeating the Crimson 24-3 a year ago.
“I don’t think anyone on our team really thought we had a chance to win before the meet started,” said freshman Julian Rose.
The senior members of the team give most of the credit for the upset to the freshman and the coaching staff.
“If Columbia took us lightly, they weren’t thinking too hard,” said co-captain Scott Silver. “The eight new recruits on this team should have scared them.”
Rose was the only Harvard fencer to go undefeated on Sunday with a 3-0 record in the epee. Classmates Tim Hagamen and David Jakus both finished 2-1 in the saber, while yet another freshman, Jonathan Carter, went 2-1 in the foil.
“Had they known the talent in our freshman class, they would have taken us more seriously,” Lindblom said. “Columbia is known as a bunch of arrogant guys. They’ve been rulers of one of the best Ivy teams for a long time and Harvard has been at the bottom for so long, they just didn’t give us any respect. I think we earned their respect Sunday.”
With a young and talented freshman class, Sunday’s victory over Columbia was a signal to the league that Harvard is back as an Ivy contender after a 26-year title drought.
“I think it represents a huge turning point,” said co-captain Ben Schmidt. “We have a great shot at the Ivy title. Columbia was number one last year and returned all its key players.”
The significance of Harvard’s victory almost overshadows the dramatic final moments on the meet.
“Columbia really thought they had it won,” Lindblom said. “It was a shocking comeback at the end.”
With Columbia leading 13-11, the Crimson needed to sweep the final three bouts to win the meet.
Sophomore Michael Soto, who finished 2-1, and Carter each took their bouts to tie the meet, 13-13, leaving all the pressure on Rose to complete the upset.
“Fencers wait their whole collegiate careers just to be in a bout like that,” Lindbloom said. “And in his first collegiate dual meet, Julian not only gets the opportunity, but he goes and wins it in the toughest meet of the season.”
Rose has fenced in National and World Championships before and claims that the pressure was not anything new.
The Lions’ chances were not helped either when Rose’s opponent, junior Michael Yablon, had three swords fail inspection and was penalized two touches.
“It is pretty outrageous and just incompetent to have three weapons fail inspection in a row,” Lindblom said. “In a college meet, you should never have more than one fail.”
Rose went on to win 5-1, but it is unlikely Yablon could have won even without the two-point penalty.
“I felt really bad for the guy,” Rose said. “He ended up having to just borrow someone else’s sword, and I think it really shook him up. But it was probably a mismatch to begin with.”
Rose is arguably one of the top epee fencers in the United States for his age.
Despite an injury-plagued season as a senior in high school, Rose finished third in the men’s senior epee division of the U.S. Nationals in 2002, placed second at the U-19 Nationals and was one of nine fencers selected to the U.S. U-17 team.
Rose was joined on that team by current teammates Carter and Hagamen. The three young fencers combined for a 7-2 record against Columbia and represent a bright future for Crimson fencing.
Harvard will have a long time to savor the victory, as the Crimson does not return to action until Jan. 25 at the Northeast Fencing Conference meet, hosted by BC.
—Staff writer Timothy Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.