Coming into the NCAA Northeast Regionals in Wellesley, Mass. early Sunday morning, Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand hoped to qualify the maximum 12 fencers for the NCAA Championships, less than two weeks away.
After a 12-hour day of fencing, the Crimson came away with eight medals as a team, and the group’s enthusiasm could only be tempered by the likelihood that they came one short of Brand’s goal.
“We were hoping to qualify the maximum in order to have a good shot at winning the [co-ed] national title,” Brand said. “With 11 [fencers], it’s going to be difficult.”
Fencers can earn spots by medaling at the regional event or by having a combination of a strong performance at a regional event and a high seeding, with up to two fencers in each weapon for men and women coming from the same school. The NCAA will announce the final spots for the championship competition on Tuesday.
“The Northeast region is the toughest in college fencing,” Brand said. “Overall, I’m very pleased with how things turned out.”
Harvard earned five medals on the day in the three weapons on the women’s side, and also secured at least five spots in the NCAA Championships.
Sophomore Isabel DiTella told the gold medal in the 49-competitor épeé event, while freshman foilist Adrienne Jarocki continued her stellar campaign with a perfect 11-0 finish to cruise to the top spot in her weapon.
After jumping out to a 12-0 record with a plus-31 indicator in the opening pool rounds, DiTella tallied nine bout wins in the medal round to claim the gold. The medal was the first in her career with the Crimson.
The hotly contested 12-competitor final pool came down to the wire, but sophomore Nina Van Loon’s seven victories in épeé combined with a plus-3 indicator was just enough for the bronze and a spot at the NCAA Championships.
In her second-to-last collegiate event, co-captain Alexandra Kiefer finished a single touch behind St. John’s Marta Hausman for the gold medal in foil. Though the senior defeated Hausman, 4-3, in the medal round, the Crimson standout’s plus-21 indicator was one shy of her opponent’s. Kiefer finishes her Crimson career having medaled in each of the four NCAA Northeast Regionals, including a gold in her freshman year.
Not to be outdone by her teammates, Jarocki thoroughly dismantled her opponents in the final round, recording a plus-44 indicator in 11 bouts.
“I was losing 4-1 [to Lew], but I fought back and won,” Jarocki said. “What I was doing wasn’t really working, but I was able to figure it out…. [Brand] told me to not use direct attacks, and that worked.”
The top-ranked fencer wasn’t the only Crimson foilist to end her day on the podium. Sophomore Aliya Itzkowitz finished 8-3 in the medal pool at the end of the day, with two of her losses coming against her teammates. Her eight bout victories were enough to claim the silver behind her freshman teammate.
“[Aliya and I] came into the tournament ranked first and second, and then we ended the tournament ranked first and second,” Jarocki said. “She was fencing extremely well.”
The Harvard men’s team collectively had a strong day by any metric, with three fencers earning medals and several others turning in fine performances as well. The Crimson had its strongest day on the foil side, with sophomore Michael Woo and junior Brian Kaneshige taking silver and bronze, respectively. Woo claimed eight bouts as well as the best indicator of the medal round pool.
Junior Alexander Ryjik earned the last of three medals for the Harvard men with a 7-4 bout record in the final round of sabre. The bronze was the second career NCAA regional medal for the Alexandria, Va. native.
On the épeé side, the senior-freshman duo of Michael Raynis and Alexander Eldeib took sixth and seventh, respectively. The former finished his day with 17 total wins, and the latter had 15.
According to Brand, both will likely qualify for the championships.Now all that’s left for the season for both squads is a plane ride to Columbus, Ohio for collegiate fencing’s biggest competition.
“We have a very, very strong contingent [of fencers] going into [NCAA’s],” Brand said. “We certainly have some really good contenders for the individual title.”
—Staff writer Caleb Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.