Fencer Valentin Staller Finishes Second at NCAA Championships
The Harvard fencing team capped off its season with a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships over the weekend in Columbus, Ohio. Co-captain Valentin Staller was among six All-Americans for the Crimson and led the team with a second-place finish in the sabre.
As a team, the Crimson finished with 136 points. Princeton, the highest placing Ivy team, finished in second (161 points) behind the host, Ohio State (181 points).
“I think we performed pretty well considering the pressure,” freshman Peregrine Badger said. “Most people who had trouble on the first day were able to come back and perform well on the second.”
“I’m really proud of all the guys,” Staller said. “We all did very well. We had three guys on the podium in each of the weapons, and I think that’s the first time we’ve done that as a team in the time I’ve been here. Though it would have been nicer to finish higher than sixth, I think, considering the tough competition we came up against this year, we did pretty well.”
Staller’s three-day charge to the podium began with his 15 victories and plus-22 score differential in the round-robin stage—enough to earn the senior a four seed in the championship round.
In the knockout stage of the sabre championship, Staller earned a final-round berth following his 15-12 victory over No. 1 seed Max Stearns of Ohio State.
“[Stearns] is a great fencer, and I just had a good game plan, and I stuck to it through the tournament. I guess I had never been in that setting before, in the final round, with a lot of people watching, with cameras, but I was able to keep cool despite it and focus on my fencing.”
But in the final round, Staller came up short against No. 2 seed Aleksander Ochocki of Penn State, falling, 15-11. Despite coming up short in the final round, Staller’s second-place finish in his last NCAA tournament capped off an illustrious fencing career with the Crimson.
“[Ochocki] was fencing great,” Staller said. “It was a tough matchup for me.... He just had the extra edge necessary in the final round. I went for some big actions, some of them I got, but most of them I didn’t.”
Entering the NCAA tournament having qualified the maximum number of fencers—12—for the second straight year, Harvard looked primed to make a title run for any of the six individual titles up for grabs this weekend.
In the men’s sabre, Staller’s second-place finish was supplemented by sophomore Eric Arzoian’s nine wins, enough to earn him 18th place.
In the epee, Badger took sixth in his first NCAA tournament appearance, giving him second-team All-American honors. For the weekend, Badger tallied 16 victories with a plus-19 score differential.
The rookie finished just two wins shy of entering the championship round in the epee.
Badger’s fellow epeeist, senior James Hawrot, finished the NCAA tournament and his Crimson fencing career with eight wins. giving him the 20 spot in the individual standings at the end of the competition.
On the women’s side, senior Caroline Vloka finished in fifth place in the sabre, enough for second-team All-American honors.