For the second year in a row, the Harvard fencing team made a statement at its opening tournament at the Garett Penn State Open this weekend in State College, Pa.
During the two-day competition, the Crimson faced off against perennial national title contenders, Princeton, Penn State, Notre Dame and Ohio State, and it did not come up short.
Defending national champion sophomore foil fencer Alexandra Kiefer and senior sabre fencer Caroline Vloka both captured gold medals for the Crimson, while freshman Emma Vaggo got on the podium by earning bronze in the epee.
“On the women’s side, what we have are some really top-notch fencers at every weapon. Alexandra Kiefer performed really well,” Harvard coach Peter Brand said. “She probably had an even better performance than she did last year, in fact. With Caroline Vloka, we saw the same thing. She won by an even larger margin than she did last year, so that has been really good sign for us as a team.”
For the weekend, six Crimson women finished in the top 20 of their respective competition.
Sophomore Alexandra Kiefer picked up where she left off last season by taking home the weekend’s top foil honors after slashing her way through a deep field of 50 entrants. Vloka also followed suit emerging victorious from a field of 41 that featured some of the nation’s top fencers such as Princeton’s Eliza Stone, the 2011 NCAA Tournament silver medalist, and Penn State’s Monica Aksamit.
In addition to Kiefer, Vloka and Vaggo’s medal-winning performances, junior Katherine Chou finished in 17th place in the foil, while freshman Kara Lee and junior Felicia Sun placed 12th and eighth in the sabre and epee, respectively. Rounding out the two-day tournament were sophomore Dakota Root and juniors Nadia Eldeib and Alexa Fishman, who finished in 27th, 30th and 45th in the epee, respectively.
The men’s squad also fared well at the Garret Open. Despite fielding a smaller roster due to injuries and illness with its personnel, the eight competitors from the men’s squad took part in the tournament on Sunday, with three fencers finishing in the top 10 in their respective weapon divisions. Leading the pack for Harvard was freshman Peregrine Badger, who got off to a strong start to his Crimson career by taking bronze in the epee in his first collegiate meet.
“It was a really exciting experience,” Badger said. “Everything just came together really well for me today, and I am happy to have gone far in this tournament.”
In addition to Badger’s breakout performance, freshman Alexander Ryjik and senior Valentin Staller took fourth and eighth in the saber, respectively. Rounding out the saber competition was sophomore Eric Arzoian, who finished in 21st place. In the epee, sophomore Michael Raynis, junior Benjamin Cohen, freshman Hikari Senju, and sophomore Nick Moore finished 22nd, 25th, 45th, and 46th, respectively.
“We had quite a few absences on the men’s side, so that makes it difficult to predetermine what that would mean for us,” Brand said.
Despite injuries for the men, Brand and Badger both remain confident of the prospects of both squads as the fencing season progresses.
“The biggest takeaway for us is that we still need to prepare for the Ivy season, but we are on our way there,” Badger said. “The main issue that we had this weekend were the injuries we have, so the next couple weeks will be focused on physical rehab and just getting everyone back into shape and ready for competition.”
To Brand, with this season’s seasoned group of upperclassmen and strong freshman on both squads, the Crimson are well within reach of the Ivy League title and a solid NCAA tournament showing.
“I think the combination of the men’s and women’s results this weekend bodes very well for us,” Brand said. “In every weapon, we performed fairly well. We had some outstanding results on the women’s and men’s sides, which I think anticipates where we will be later this season. If we can continue along this path, we can be very competitive throughout the year.”
—Staff writer Oluwatoni A. Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.