Harvard To Fence for National Title
With 11 members of a maximum 12-member team qualifying for the 2011 NCAA Collegiate Fencing Championships, Harvard hopes to improve upon last season’s fifth-place finish at the French Field House and St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, in the weekend tournament that began yesterday.
On the men’s side, six athletes are representing the Crimson. Junior co-captain Valentin Staller and sophomore Thomas Kolasa will compete in the sabre, freshman Michael Raynis and junior James Hawrot will participate in the epee, and freshman Lucas Lin and sophomore Tommasso di Robilant will partake in the foil event.
The Harvard women’s team has five athletes competing. Junior Noam Mills and sophomore Felicia Sun will fence in the epee, freshman Alex Kiefer and sophomore Katherine Chou will compete in the foil, and junior co-captain Caroline Vloka will participate in the sabre.
“There’s only 11 of us, so it is tougher to get enough victories to do well.” Kiefer said. “Also the competition is over two days, and it might be hard to stay motivated...[we’re] just making sure [we] don’t get too confident after the first day is over.”
Only Princeton, Notre Dame, and Ohio State qualified the maximum of 12 athletes for the tournament.
Both the Crimson’s women’s and men’s squads have already had considerable experience against the three opponents.
“Princeton is probably our biggest rival, and Notre Dame is also really strong too,” Kiefer said. “At the beginning of the season, the [Harvard] men’s team was ranked second and the women’s was ranked third. But I think we’ve dropped since then.”
“I’ve basically fenced everyone over the past two years, and we’ve fenced all the best teams in the country this season and done fairly well,” Staller said. “I’m pretty optimistic.”
The competition begins with the men, with the first four rounds yesterday and the last three rounds and the gold medal bouts today. The men’s squad scored 39 total victories yesterday and are tied for fourth heading into today’s action. The championships continue in a similar fashion with the women competing tomorrow and Sunday.
The fencers compete in a round-robin event, and the top four fencers go on to compete in the championship rounds. A team is awarded a point for each match that its members win, and at the end of the weekend, the highest point total earned across both the men’s and women’s competition wins the title.
“I’ve heard from Olympic medalists and international champions—and from my personal experience—that this competition is one of the most stressful,” Vloka said. “This format is very different from any other competition. There’s no real way to adjust your attitude to fit this specific type of competition; every bout is riding on your shoulders.”
In last year’s national tournament held at Harvard, Staller, Hawrot, and di Robilant all placed in the top 15 in their respective events. Additionally, Mills was runner-up in the epee and Vloka captured the national title in the sabre event.
Heading into this year’s tournament, the Crimson fencers look poised to better their results from last year.
Earlier this season, the men captured the Ivy League title, and the women came in third. Both teams also had strong showings at the NCAA Northeast Regional Championships in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., two weeks ago.
Late season training has also given the Harvard fencers the confidence to jump over their final hurdle in a quest for a national championship.
“We’ve been doing a lot of fencing and lifting weights. I’ve been staying in good shape, but mentally I haven’t been thinking about it,” Kiefer said.
“I’ve been kind of laid back for preparation, just the usual,” Vloka said. “I’ve been conditioning physically, rather than thinking about it. Just going to practice, working hard, and not stressing over it is probably the best thing.”
But the Crimson knows that mental preparedness is a necessity in order to find success this weekend.
“Everyone is entering with the right attitude, and we’re all just really excited. As long everyone is in the right frame of mind and shows up mentally prepared we could all do pretty well,” Staller said. “If we make the top four we get a sweet plaque, which we’ve missed out on the past two years.”