NEW YORK -- As Harvard entered the final day of IFA fencing competition Saturday, buoyed by a surprisingly strong showing in foil the day before, the Crimson looked ahead with renewed optimism on the chances for a respectable Harvard finish.
Unfortunately, between the 9 a.m. starting time and the final presentation of awards at 3:45 p.m., Harvard's chances, along with all of the early optimism, had been convincingly shattered.
For starters, the sabre squad, which many had picked to be Harvard's most effective team at the Easterns, failed miserably in the Saturday morning trials. The Crimson sabre men won only 18 out of 36 bouts to finish in a disappointing tie for sixth place with a rag-tag Navy squad, 11 substantial points behind sabre cochampions Yale and Columbia, which each grabbed 29 wins.
And as if this weren't enough, Phillipe Bennett, Harvard's sole standout in the two-day competition, failed in his bid to win the individual foil title Saturday afternoon.
Harvard's major disappointment in the morning sabre trials was the performance of Crimson captain Terry Valenzuela. Valenzuela had been considered by many to be one of the leading contenders for the individual sabre crown and an almost sure bet to make it into the finals, and he left a lot of people disappointed.
For most of the morning, between bouts that is, Valenzuela wore a "tasteless and gaudy" Harvard Lampoon T-shirt, and from the way he fenced, it was an appropriate tag for his performance. Valenzuela managed to win seven of his 12 bouts, a respectable enough showing in itself, but fell far under the expectations that most people had held for him.
The weekend wasn't a complete disaster for Valenzuela however, because the senior sabre man received notice that the final Ivy League statistics revealed that his All-Ivy aspirations had been resurrected after everyone had believed them to be thoroughly dead after he lost three straight bouts to Yale in the final match of the season.
His last-match collapse not-withstanding, Valenzuela tied four others for the second spot on the all-star squad with 10 league victories.
The rest of the sabre squad was equally disappointing Saturday. Gordon Rutledge in the second pool, and Walt Morris in the third were largely unable to get untracked, and both failed to mount much of a challenge for a spot in the finals.
The disappointing showing in sabre should have forewarned Harvard of the fate to befall Bennett. Bennett, whose 10-2 record in the second pool tied him for top spot in the division, couldn't muster much attack Saturday, losing four out of five bouts in the finals. Curiously, Bennett's only win in the finals came in the opening bout when he came from behind to outpoint Brooke Makler, 5-4. Makler, Penn's four-year standout, went on to win the individual foil title.
On the team level, NYU won the three-weapon title by a comfortable margin with 81 points. Princeton, which showed surprisingly well in the Easterns, finished second with 70 points and Columbia followed with 62. Harvard tied Cornell for seventh place with 54 points.
Individual titles in epee and sabre also went to NYU with Risto Hurme taking the epee competiton and Pete Westbrook winning sabre.