Trip to Queens Ends in Mixed Results for Crimson

Harvard women duel to victory while men’s struggles continue

Melissa Schellberg

Freshman sabre fencer Caroline Vloka showed a level of poise normally not reserved for rookies on Saturday against tough opposition, finishing a perfect 6-0, including a victory against Dagmara Wozniak, an Olympian.

Continuing a recent trend for the Harvard fencing team, the No. 5 women far exceeded expectations, while the No. 7 men fell short at the St. John’s Invitational Saturday in Queens, N.Y.

A late addition to the schedule, the meet featured two other teams—the Red Storm and Ohio State, last year’s national champions. While the women (11-1) bested its opponents 18-9 and 15-12, respectively, the men (5-5) dropped a down-to-the-wire 14-13 contest to St. John’s and lost 17-10 to the Buckeyes.

An impressive day from the women featured an even more impressive day from freshman sabre fencer Caroline Vloka. The rookie went 6-0 on the afternoon, including a win over Olympian Dagmara Wozniak.

“Caroline’s had an incredible season, and she definitely showed that this weekend,” co-captain Emily Cross said. “She’s been performing at a really high standard. She’s just been doing really great. We’ve fenced a lot of great teams, so it was great to see her step up to the plate the way she did.”

Although the rest of the sabre squad lags far behind Vloka in experience, the épée and particularly the foil events have more than made up for any shortcomings.

Senior épée fencer Maria Larsson has come on of late, going 5-1 on the day, a pace matched by foil fencer Cross. Cross and teammates freshman Shelby MacLeod, junior Anna Podolsky, and junior co-captain Arielle Pensler—who fenced for the first time this season, returning from injury—posted a 9-0 drubbing of a solid St. John’s team and a big 5-4 win over a strong Buckeye squad.

“I felt stronger about our women’s chances, and really it always comes down to the foil squad,” Brand said. “We have a really solid foil squad, and they just came through for us big time…Those three or four really strong fencers always put us in a good position.”

On the men’s side, the team benefited from co-captain Benji Ungar’s return to health.

“Benji looks physically fit and back to his old form again,” Crimson coach Peter Brand said. “He looks like he’s back, and if he stays healthy, he certainly has a shot at recapturing the NCAA individual title.”

The senior’s nagging injuries during the fall campaign hampered the performance of the épée squad, which often became the deciding factor in meets.

Saturday was no different. Harvard came into its final round of epee against the Red Storm leading and needing only two wins to clinch victory, but it would only get one. Ungar went 5-1 and junior Karl Harmenberg added a 4-2 performance for the squad that easily beat its Buckeye counterpart, 6-3.

“I think we should’ve done better,” Brand said. “Our guys weren’t up to the test at that point in time. On any given day, they can beat the best in the country, we just didn’t have it that match.”

It was the foil that led the way against St. John’s, besting the Red Storm 8-1 and setting up the epee showdown.

As on the women’s side, it was a rookie that shined in the men’s sabre, as Valentin Staller boasted a 4-2 record.

Overall it was a telling day for a Crimson team that has just one more warm-up competition next weekend before it hits the heart of its season at the Ivy League Championships next month.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Cross said. “The women’s team, we beat some of the toughest teams probably in the country, and we’re feeling pretty strong. We’ve got a couple of weeks left to train, and especially coming off these wins, we’ve got a pretty good mental attitude; we’re ready to go.

“I think we have a pretty good shot at taking it all this year.”

—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at