The Harvard fencing team entered competition with national champion status, poised to qualify as many fencers as possible for a run at another NCAA title.
Unfortunately, that shot now comes with a handicap.
Yesterday’s NCAA Regional Championships at Tufts included many ups and downs. The Crimson qualified nine fencers for Nationals, two each in the men’s saber and foil and women’s epee, and one each in women’s foil and saber and men’s epee.
To the average sports fan, it would seem that doing so would put the team into contention.
But the experienced collegiate fencer knows that entering just nine into the national round of play makes winning the title nearly impossible. Competing against squads with 12 fencers in the national pool puts Harvard at a deep disadvantage.
While the Crimson has a chance to have two at-large bids in the form of junior captain and saber Samantha Parker and freshman foil Arielle Pensler, neither will know until tomorrow.
Even if they do get the bids, the squad will have to overcome a large deficit—each fencer makes a world of difference in national competition,
“It’s really hard, especially being one [spot] away from making it to NCAA,” Parker said. “This is the closest I’ve ever come to making it...It’s really hard being in a place like this, where it’s out of your hands. No athlete likes feeling like this.”
According to Harvard coach Peter Brand, Parker may have to wait until next year.
“For the at-large bid, I would venture to say Arielle has the best chance,” he said. “She has a very high seed, so nationally speaking, she is in a very strong position to win that bid. I think that’s the more realistic picture here.”
Pensler’s classmate and fellow foil fencer Misha Goldfeder qualified for the next level. Goldfeder fenced much of the spring with a nagging thumb injury, but managed to heal just in time to win the Intercollegiate Fencing Association Championship last weekend and then dominate this weekend.
Parker’s weaponmate junior Alexa Weingarden’s season also continues.
The women’s epee continued its dominance this spring season with two top finishers in the form of senior Jasmine McGlade and sophomore Maria Larsson. Much like last year, the duo finished in the top two spots.
“They both fenced really well, and I anticipated they would qualify—I had no doubts about that,” Brand said. “They are very strong fencers, very strong-willed, very competitive. When they’re on the strip, you have the feeling that no matter who is in front of them, they can win.”
In the men’s saber, captain Tim Hagamen and senior Dan Sachs both qualified. The duo has been a strong point of the squad throughout the year, even when Sachs struggled with knee injuries.
“We’re really happy that all of our seniors who were competing for spots at nationals made it,” Hagamen said. “I’m happy to have one last shot at nationals and the other seniors are as well.”
The men’s foil competition will display senior Enoch Woodhouse and sophomore Kai Itameri-Kinter. Woodhouse makes the fourth senior qualifier.
The epee squad was in unfamiliar territory, fencing without the 2006 epee national champion, junior Benjamin Ungar, absent for a World Cup event.
Although last year Ungar could have petitioned for a bye in regionals and a spot for nationals, rule changes dictate that his decision to fence internationally means he will not be headed to Madison, N.J., in two weeks.
“After last year, when he came in third at the Junior World Championships, I strongly encouraged him to go to the next level,” Brand said. “This is a situation where there obviously wasn’t much of a choice. He worked very hard for this—I couldn’t deny him it.”
But the epee squad did not go home empty-handed.
Junior Teddy Sherrill was able to make it, rounding out the list of Crimson qualifiers with at least one from each weapon and nine total.
Two weeks from now, the team will try to defend its national title against tough odds. The favorites will be Columbia—which took the women’s Ivy League title and shared the men’s crown—Notre Dame, St. John’s, and Penn State.
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com.