Before the 50-odd spectators had settled into their seats at Cornell on Saturday, the Big Red swordsmen were well on their way to a victory over Harvard.
The Crimson lost by the lopsided score of 18-9, yet the players said the setback could be attributed to a home court advantage, poor officiating, and a questionable lamey (protective jacket). Most of the individual bouts were close and decided by the little things that seem magnified after a loss.
Cornell's all-American saber star Neilo Otero defeated his three opponents in the opening round, capitalizing on his experience in the tight matches. Phillipe Bennett, Crimson captain, said yesterday that questionable calls, which worsened as the Harvard bench harassed the director, also helped Cornell lunge to a 7-2 lead.
Harvard would have been leading 5-4 after the saber event if a few breaks had gone its way, Bennett said. "I am definitely convinced that there is a home court advantage at Cornell," he said.
Harvard needed to wage a comeback in the foil bouts in order to have any chance of victory. Despite two wins by John Major, Cornell's Don Massiales, an all-Ivy selection, got a little help from his lamey that finished the Crimson.
According to Bennett, Massiales's lamey "has distinctive advantages for avoiding target shots in the back." It has not yet been approved by the international fencing federation, Bennett said.
Massiales's battle with Gene Vastola provided some of the best action of the match. Trailing 2-3, Vastola pushed Massiales back about 30 feet with a rapid fire sequence of balustrade attacks along the blade, before finally scoring a hit on the lower flank.
The two lefties were tied but Massiales went on to win the bout 5-3. By the end of the foil competition, the Big Red led the Crimson 12-6.
Matt Simmons, who won two out of three of his events, was the only bright spot for Harvard in the epee. Cornell took six of the nine bouts to complete its butchering of the Crimson.
Simmons has been improving steadily lately and seems to be peaking in time for the NCAA tournament in March. He hopes to place in the top six, which would give him an all-American ranking.
Bennett, Harvard's present all-American star, only won a single bout at Cornell, but he is aiming for the top three at the NCAAs. "We weren't psychologically ready to fence," he said.