On day three of the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, the crowd gathered inside Ohio State’s French Field House was silent, but not for a lack of suspense or team support.
In fact, not much other than the commands of the referee, the clashing of metal, and the echoing beeps of the scoring box could be heard during the women’s sabré final.
Standing across the strip from Crimson freshman Adrienne Jarocki was her teammate and friend, sophomore Aliya Itzkowitz.
The practice partners had fenced each other in their first bout of the tournament and, after the grueling 23-bout preliminary round, both found themselves in the top four. After winning their semifinal matchups, they fenced for the title.
“It’s a beautiful situation for the coach, but not so much for the two of them having to fence each other for the title,” Harvard coach Peter Brand said. “It’s a big chess game—these two individuals have fenced each other all year long and know each other really well.”
With Brand and the other coaches obligated to not help one Harvard fencer over the other, second-seed Jarocki and top-seed Itzkowitz were on their own for the final bout of the season.
Though the two-time British Junior World Team member Itzkowitz and the U.S. Junior World Team member Jarocki were tied at seven late in the first period, the latter scored six of the next seven touches to claim the NCAA title in her first collegiate season.
“Fencing Aliya in the finals as opposed to anybody else changed the way I approached the bout,” Jarocki said. “I wasn’t approaching it in a competitive nature, but more like it [was] just another bout in practice, and this was going to be fun…. That day I happened to win, but it could have gone either way.”
While Jarocki’s 18-5 pool play record from the previous two days reflects her stellar performance, it still was just two bout victories more than the cutoff for the final elimination round.
“The problem with the NCAA tournament is that you cannot afford to coast because every touch of every bout counts,” Brand said. “It’s actually quite a trap because if you are lulled into coasting, you’re liable to not make the final four, which has occurred on many occasions.”
Yet both Jarocki and Brand still recognized that the groundwork for the final few days of the collegiate fencing calendar needed to be laid months before the actual event took place.
“This was a challenge, to make sure she was on her A-game for each of those 23 bouts,” Brand said. “So the preparation and the entire year helped her manage that, and she understood the entire game by the time she got to March.”
Jarocki attributed much of her success to the support of her teammates.
“At Harvard in particular…the team aspect of the game is very important and very strong,” Jarocki said. “It brings a new [side] to fencing that I wasn’t used to, and I think that’s why I did so well at NCAAs…. You have not only a dream for yourself, but also for your team.”
Jarocki’s 25th victory of the tournament was just another one of the many the freshman earned throughout the year.
She won the first two bouts of her career against Tufts in December, went 18-0 at the Ivy League Round-Robins, and took home gold with a 20-3 record at the NCAA Northeast Regional before putting on her mask for the NCAA Championships.
“[NCAAs] is a long tournament with two days of preliminary competition [and] she did beautifully,” Brand said. “She won that tournament quite handily, to be honest—she was never really challenged at the final four, and she was poised [and] confident.”
Her win also had historic implications for the Harvard fencing program, which added its first women’s sabré individual title to its resume. Jarocki’s NCAA individual trophy is also the first since outgoing senior Alexandra Kiefer won the women’s foil event three years ago.
“I’m very proud of her attitude—the way she handled the first year of college and the tremendous amount of pressure that was mounted upon her,” Brand said. “Overall, she’s one of the best fencers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching.”
—Staff writer Caleb Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.