Harvard's Cinderella fencing team tried championship slippers on for size Saturday, after humiliating defending Ivy titlist Penn, 18-9, at the IAB to clinch at least a tie for its first Ivy title ever.
The win, coupled with the Crimson's 14-13 triumph over Columbia on Friday, boosted Harvard's record to 3-1 in league competition. Cornell is a half-game off the pace with a 3-2 record and its Ivy schedule completed.
Princeton and Columbia are a full game back with 2-2 records and one match left. Harvard can secure sole possession of first place with a win over Yale this weekend.
Harvard has never finished higher than second in league competition. Two years ago the Crimson finished up in a three-way tie with Penn and Yale for the runner-up spot behind Columbia. The second place finish was at that time Harvard's highest finish ever.
Harvard had little trouble subduing the Quakers, who without the services of graduated All-Americans Ernesto Fernandez and Brooke Makler have not even a prayer going for them.
The Crimson methodically devastated Penn in the first two rounds, grabbing 14 wins in the first 18 bouts, and sewed up the team victory before the third stanza had even begun.
The Crimson epee and sabre squads paced the Harvard rout, running up 7-2 and 6-3 bouting records, respectively. The foil team was equally strong in the first two rounds, winning five out of six bouts, but collapsed in the last stanza. With the team victory assured, the Crimson foil men dropped three straight in round three.
Crimson captain and epee man Eugene White pointed out that the win over Penn less than 24 hours after the tension-filled triumph over Columbia gave a big boost to Harvard's title stock. "It was really emotionally draining to go on four and one-half hours against Columbia and pull it out with a 5-4 win in the last bout," White said. "To win big today is very pleasing. Now if we can squeak by next week against Yale...."
Individually there were a lot of heroes for Harvard, led by Gordon Rutledge in sabre and White in epee. Rutledge and White each swept three straight bouts, and both seem to have a good shot at earning All-Ivy honors. Close behind with 2-1 bouting records, were Steve Hobbs (sabre), Howie Weiss and Phillipe Bennett (foil), and Eric Read and Sam Anderson (epee).
Crimson coach Edo Marion, for whom this season is the first to bring a championship in his 22 years of coaching at Harvard, was not surprised by the outcome of the match. "I rather expected it," Marion said afterwards. "I figured out that we are better in foil and epee than any other team in the Ivies and while we started out very weak in sabre, we have improved to where we now have a solid squad."
A New Spirit
With back-to-back wins against the "iron" of the league and a first-ever share of the Ivy title, Harvard has proved that it has come a long way from the untested squad that struggled early in the season.
Marion pointed to the fact that Harvard is now winning the 5-4 bouts instead of losing them as a sign of the Crimson's newfound maturity.
"I don't like all these 5-4s," Marion said, "but Harvard always used to lose instead of win when we got to 4-4. In the past Harvard fencing hasn't had the fortitude, the confidence, the moral strength to win the 5-4 bouts. We lacked the guts. I used to think we needed more male hormones. Now we win."
Marion said that there is a big difference between this year's title-contending team and last year's talent-laden squad that finished last in the Ivies. "This year we have no prima donnas," Marion said.
Weiss concurred with Marion's observation of a new attitude. "Everyone feels responsible for the team this year," Weiss said after the match. "The fencing team is carrying around a good head."