With a lopsided female lineup and a few tough losses early in the season for the men, a successful year was never a certainty for the nationally-contending Crimson. Yet with strong leadership from tri-captains Emily Cross, Kai Itameri-Kinter, and Benji Ungar, the Crimson worked its way up to finish fifth in the country for the Ivy League-champion women, and seventh for the men, who entered the tournament ranked 10th. Harvard ultimately sent nine individuals to the NCAA Tournament.
“Our women were the stars this year,” Crimson coach Peter Brand said. “Overall, this was one of our best years since [the national championship in] ’06 because so many individuals made NCAAs. It was a stellar year for us.”
Early in the season, Brand expressed concern for the lack of depth on his women’s squad, but was reassured early by Cross that the team would pull through and win the Ivy Championship. On paper, the Harvard lineup varied, with some of the best fencers in the country leading all three weapons but also including a few women with little collegiate experience. Brand attributed the success of the women’s team to Cross and her skills as a captain.
“She was a tremendous leader for the women,” Brand said. “She didn’t just cheer, but helped coach the other women. She clearly was the premier leader on the women’s side.”
The Crimson women (20-1) were able to shine the entire season, losing only one match to Penn State in early December.
Cross finished her stellar collegiate career with a strong fight, losing a close 8-7 bout to the Nittany Lions’ Doris Willette and eventually claiming third place in the nation in the foil.
Freshmen sabre Caroline Vloka and epee Noam Mills were also outstanding in their first year. Vloka finished second in the country in the sabre, notching a 21-4 record, and Mills followed suit with an astounding 22-3 season.
In the tournament, Mills finished second overall in the epee.
Brand describes Mills as one of the best fencers on the team.
“She continues to work extremely hard, more than anyone else on the team,” Brand praised.
Mills and Vloka capped off their amazing rookie campaigns by receiving first-team All-American honors. Joining them were Cross and senior epee Ungar.
Ungar led the way for a men’s team (9-9) that finished the season on a high note, despite a few difficult losses. The tri-captain earned a third-place finish in the men’s epee and along with freshman sabre Valentin Staller—who had nine victories and 78 touches in the tournament for a 15th-place finish—propelled the men to seventh overall at NCAAs.
At the NCAA Regionals, junior epee Karl Harmenberg mirrored his female counterpart Mills, as both took home the gold medal in the weapon. Senior Maria Larsson finished behind Mills in second.
Other Crimson fencers who competed in the NCAA Tournament included freshman foil Shelby MacLeod and Larsson—both of whom finished 17th in their respective weapons—along with Itameri-Kinter, who finished 20th in the men’s foil, and Harmenberg, who finished 23rd.
Although a far cry from a national championship, the Crimson made its way back to the highest echelon of American fencing this season, something that has been missing since 2006.
“I’m really proud of the team in general,” Vloka said. “Everyone did a really amazing job.”
Harvard will be put to the test next year after losing many key fencers to graduation, perhaps none more crucial than Cross. Still, with a few talented freshmen on its side, the Crimson should prove a fierce competitor both in the Ivy League and nationally.
—Staff writer Melissa Schellberg can be reached at email@example.com.