The fall season came to a tumultuous end for the Harvard fencing team Saturday in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., as the women (8-1) fenced to a strong, 4-1 finish, while the men (5-3) struggled to a 1-3 mark. Each squad took on Vassar, NYU, Princeton, and Penn State, and the women also fenced Temple.
Injuries continued to plague a team that has struggled to remain consistent throughout the fall campaign. The men suffered from injuries on multiple squads, including co-captain and epee fencer Benji Ungar, who competed for just the first time this season, going 10-2. He lost a key bout against Princeton, 5-4, to hand the Tigers a 14-13 win in the second of two incredibly close contests—Harvard fell 14-13 to NYU in the previous matchup.
“Benji is a terrific leader, but the biggest problem is he’s been injured, this is his first tournament,” Crimson coach Peter Brand said. “It bodes well that he did well being rusty, still coming out ahead in a very tough competition. The loss against Princeton...I think if he was in top form he would’ve won that match.”
The team also took a hit with freshman epee fencer James Hawrot gone competing at a world cup tournament attempting to make the junior world championship team.
“This was an important event for him,” Brand said. “His teammates also felt he deserves the chance to make the team for this year.”
After starting out strong with a commanding, 21-6 over the Brewers, the Crimson dropped the next two close matches and followed that up with a disappointing 18-9 loss to Nittany Lions.
The top performance came in the sabre, where rookie Valentin Staller went an impressive 11-1. Ungar followed him up as a close second, and co-captain Kai Itameri-Kinter was third-best with an 8-4 record.
The women continued to outperform the men, demolishing Vassar 22-5, the Violets 21-6, the Owls 18-9, and Princeton 17-10. The lone loss came against fencing juggernaut Penn State 17-10.
The foil squad led the way again, with co-captain Emily Cross posting an undefeated, 15-0 mark. She was followed closely by a number of rookies who continued to impress in the young season.
Freshman epee fencer Noam Mills had an 11-2 afternoon, and classmate and sabre fencer Caroline Vloka went 13-2, losing only in the tough Penn State matchup.
“It’s great,” Itameri-Kinter said. “It was important we had a solid class coming in this season, and we did. It’s really important to bring that fresh blood in, especially kids that haven’t just been fencing in college. They bring a lot of diversity in their skill set. They haven’t just been fencing the same people, so they’re a little stronger.”
The weekend marked the end of an educational fall season for the Crimson, who saw a number of new faces on the mats as well as a few fencers returning from a year off. With four rookie fencers for the women and two for the men, inexperience looked to play an integral role in the young season. But the freshmen showed early and often the transition to college won’t affect them. And with fencers like sophomore foilist Hao Meng—recovering from a broken foot—Ungar, and numerous others having nearly three months off to recover, the Crimson may become a force to be reckoned with come spring and the Ivy season.
“Our season is built so we gradually move into the apex of the season, which is the Ivy Championships in February, so this year we’re fortunate that despite our injuries, we have some time to recover literally before these two important dates in February,” Brand said. “So I’m hoping everyone can stay healthy. We have a tremendous opportunity this year.”
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com.