FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Emily Cross

FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Alexandra C. Bell

Emily Cross

No one knew what she would do for an encore.

Last year’s Harvard Crimson Female Rookie of the Year, sophomore foilist Emily Cross already boasted a Junior World Championship title and All-America status. With such an accomplished resume, even she did not know what more she could do to prove herself on the junior circuit.

And then she helped the Harvard fencing squad to its best season ever. After that: a repeat of her Junior Worlds glory.

It was an improbable ending to a season that started off slowly; despite strong performances in Ivy play, Cross struggled in international competition.

“There was a lot of rust there,” Crimson coach Peter Brand says. “But I think she revitalized and she gained some energy throughout the year. As we were moving forward through the season, it looked like she was getting stronger and stronger again.”

That’s the way Cross works.

Even though she achieved everything she could have hoped in the junior circuit, this year presented the challenge of rising academic commitments.

Despite receiving an invitation to the Senior World Championships last fall, Cross passed up the opportunity due to class conflicts. It was the first such instance in her fencing career.

She worked hard not to allow her schoolwork to affect her play. But by the winter it was clear she was not herself; both school and the pressure to perform, she admits, affected her.

“I think it was my first up-and-down season in a while,” Cross says. “It was kind of a lot of things hitting me at the same time, so I think that was a big difference.”

Despite frequent hindrances, Cross pushed through organic chemistry and extra-curricular activities to prove herself yet again.

After she led the team to its second Ivy championship in as many years, she finished third at Nationals as the team won its first-ever NCAA title, beating out numerous past winners in the process.

What made Cross such an outstanding athlete in 2006 was her dual contribution to the sport as an individual and as a team player.

“It’s very easy, because fencing is an individual sport, to separate yourself,” Brand says. “But that’s one of the reasons I really recruited her: not because she was just a great fencer, but I knew she would add to our team overall. And she has proven that.”

At the Junior World Championships in Taebacek City, South Korea, nonetheless, Cross faced unforeseen challenges.

Cross entered the qualification round ranked No. 10, an unlikely draw that matched her up against two Russians who currently ranked among the best junior fencers in the world. Cross barely escaped the second of the two bouts with a 15-14 win.

Surprised to make it to the gold-medal bout, one familiar opponent stood between Cross and a repeat title.

In the 2005 finals, Cross narrowly defeated Arianna Errigo of Italy in a nail-biting 15-14 win. This time, she dismantled the Italian, 15-5, to everyone’s shock.

“I was really floored,” Brand says. “I watched the video of the final, and I could not believe what I was seeing. The fact that she dominated her opponent in the gold-medal match was just unbelievable.”

Adds Brand, “Emily Cross certainly has proven that persistence and hard work and determination pays off. She’s one of those people, a rare breed of people, who can maintain focus throughout the year at a place like Harvard where there are a lot of distractions.”

Next season, Cross will move into senior competition with the ultimate goal of joining the U.S. Olympic team in 2008. To begin to prepare herself, she will start off slowly, testing her abilities this summer in various world cups.

Whatever awaits her in her senior career, Cross will be remembered on the junior circuit as a dominant foilist.

—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at mshapiro@fas.harvard.edu.

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