Despite last year’s Ivy League title for the men’s squad and the NCAA individual foil title for sophomore Alexandra Kiefer, another successful year was never a certainty for the nationally-contending Crimson fencing team. But with a second-place finish by the men’s squad in the Ivy League Championship, a sixth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, and individual silver medal for outgoing co-captain Valentin Staller in the saber, Harvard was nonetheless able to remain in the upper echelons of Ivy and national fencing.
“Given that we won the Ivy League Championship last year, we were a little disappointed with this year’s result,” Staller says. “We didn’t do quite as well in the dual meets as we did last year, but we had a tough schedule. We fenced pretty much all the best teams in the country and no one can say that we didn’t have a great season.”
The men’s squad opened up the season at the Garret Open at Penn State with three fencers finishing in the top 10 in their respective divisions. Freshman epee Peregrine Badger had a memorable start to his Harvard career, medaling in his first collegiate meet by taking bronze in the epee. In the men’s squad return to Penn State for the Penn State Invitational, the Crimson once again turned in a strong performance with the men registering a 5-1 record—the lone loss coming against defending national champion Penn State.
But following this promising start to the season, then-No. 3 Harvard faltered, dropping four out of its five matches at the St. John’s Invitational. The Crimson suffered close defeats to No. 5 Ohio State (15-12), No. 1 Penn State (17-10), and No. 4 Notre Dame (15-12), but were blown out by hosts No. 6 St. John’s (19-8). Harvard’s lone victory came against Ivy-foe Columbia (16-11).
Staller attributes Harvard’s mid-season slump to misplaced expectations and struggles to find a consistent level of team motivation.
“I think we may have placed expectations a little too high,” Staller says. “I think we focused too much on the results and not enough on the process.”
Despite this mid-season loss of momentum, the Crimson men quickly regrouped and positioned themselves for a defense of their Ancient Eight title. On the first day of the two-day tournament hosted by Yale, Harvard opened with a 2-1 record, posting wins over Ivy foes Penn (14-13) and Yale (15-12) while coming up just one point short against Princeton (14-13).
On the second day, the men’s squad rounded out Ivy League competition with dominant performances against Columbia and Brown to close out the tournament with a 5-1 record, good for second place behind the undefeated Tigers.
Although the men’s squad fell just one point short of retaining the Ancient Eight crown, three Crimson fencers—Staller, senior James Hawrot, and freshman Brian Kaneshige—were recognized for their individual efforts and earned All-Ivy First Team honors.
The Harvard men concluded their regular season with a formidable showing at the Beanpot Tournament, sweeping the Boston teams to claim the 2012 fencing Beanpot title. The Crimson carried its momentum into the NCAA Regionals hosted by Boston College.
“We were able to qualify six men and six women for the NCAA Championships—the maximum amount—and I don’t think that too many teams were able to achieve that,” Staller says.
Harvard managed a sixth place finish at NCAAs but the highlight for the Crimson was the performance of Staller, who put together a three-day charge for the saber title, culminating in a championship match against Aleksander Ochocki of Penn State.
But in the end, Staller’s championship came up just a bit short, as he fell to Ochocki, 15-11.
For the women’s squad, the season was similarly marked with early season successes, mid-season doldrums and post-season achievements.
The Harvard women opened up its year at the Garret Open with two gold medals, one for sophomore Alexandra Kiefer in the foil and another for senior Caroline Vloka in the saber. Freshman Emma Vaggo earned a bronze in the epee.
But the women’s squad’s initial successes gradually faded away. At the St. John’s Invitational, the Crimson opened up with a commanding victory over Penn State in its first dual competition of the tournament, but followed that up with a series of losses to No. 4 Notre Dame (15-12), Columbia (15-12) and No. 5 Ohio State (21-6). With a late day victory over hosts St. John’s, Harvard finished the tournament with a record of 2-3.
In the Ivy League Championship, the Crimson women had an almost exact replica of their Ivy-title push last season. The women’s squad concluded the tournament finishing in third place with a 4-2 record after defeating Penn, Cornell, Brown, and Yale, but falling to Princeton and Columbia.
The Harvard women closed out the regular season and entered the postseason with stellar performances at the Beanpot and at the NCAA Regionals. Just like their counterparts on the men’s squad, the women’s squad made short work of their local rivals, sweeping all three local Boston teams by large margins.
After qualifying the maximum number of fencers at the NCAA Regionals, the women’s squad finished its season with a sixth place finish and two All-American performances by Vloka and Kiefer. Vloka finished in fifth place in the sabre, enough for second-team All-American honors. Kiefer, who claimed the NCAA individual championship as a rookie in 2011, finished in 11th place, earning an All-American honorable mention in the process.
—Staff writer Oluwatoni A. Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.