Riding the talents of new and newly-established members, the Harvard men’s and women’s fencing teams both made runs at Ivy League titles during the 2013-2014 season. While the Crimson women came up just short of their goal with a second-place conference finish, the men’s side went 4-1 to capture a share of the championship for the second straight year.
A few weeks later, the squads joined together to compete for a team title at the NCAA combined championships and took fifth place. In a program record, four Crimson men and five women earned All-American honors with top-10 results at the four-day tournament.
“I think we pretty much accomplished what we set out to do,” coach Peter Brand said. “The only goal I thought we had a better shot at doing a little better was at the NCAAs.”
While the team may have broken records at NCAAs, the biggest story of the tournament came as second-seeded Harvard freshman Adrienne Jarocki stared down sophomore teammate and top seed Aliya Itzkowitz for the individual sabré title, marking the first time two Harvard fencers have faced each other in the national tournament final.
A former top-ranked junior, Jarocki calmly took control after falling behind, 6-5, to win the bout, 15-10. The final bout came after Itzkowitz had defeated her in the preliminary pool play round.
“To be able to do this in my freshman year kind of sets the ground for me for the next few years,” Jarocki said. “Since I did it now, I know that I have the ability to do it for the next three years.”
Along with Jarocki and Itzkowitz, captain Alexandra Kiefer and sophomore Isabella DiTella took sixth in foil and épée, respectively, while junior Emily Vaggo finished ninth in épée. The All-American honors for the five were the most in a single season in Harvard history.
The winner of the 2011 NCAA foil event, Kiefer finished with a 16-7 record and a plus-26 differential. Her fourth straight All-American nod tied the Crimson individual record.
“Alex was a tremendous fencer and captain and was someone who worked tirelessly for all four years,” Brand said. “She’s one of the best [Harvard] has ever had.”
A little over a month before NCAAs, the women went 5-1 at the Ivy League Round-Robins, finishing short of the title.
“It definitely [wasn’t] a perfect season, and we would have loved to win that Ivy title,” Itzkowitz said. “We were so close, so I think that was a big disappointment.”
In the culmination of conference play, the fourth day of the Ivy League Championships at Providence, R.I., proved to be stressful for coaches and fencers alike.
“It was definitely one of those roller-coaster rides,” Brand said. “We only had to win one of the last three bouts against Columbia [for the outright title], but we lost all three.”
Though the Crimson fell to the Lions, 14-13, in its fourth matchup of the competition, a Princeton victory against Columbia left the door open for Harvard to earn a share of the top spot.
And with a 17-10 victory over Brown, the Crimson’s 4-1 record was good enough for the championship split with Columbia.
“We hit our goal with winning the title, but it’s tough to win outright—Columbia’s team was especially strong,” co-captain Michael Raynis said.
Coming into the year, earning a second consecutive Ivy League title looked to be much tougher with the absence of épeéist Peregrine Badger, who took a year off after taking third individually at the NCAA championships in 2013.
“Certainly, [the men’s épée] group was our question right from the outset,” Brand said.
Following the league finals were the NCAA championships, which saw the Harvard men compete against loaded fields that included former Olympians.
But the Crimson men came into the event poised and prepared, and four of the six Harvard fencers earned top-10 finishes.
“Our team dynamic is our best asset,” Raynis said. “At the NCAAs you’re taking what’s basically an individual sport and adapting [it] to a very team-based competition format.”
—Staff writer Caleb Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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