When Caroline Vloka faced rival Rebecca Ward in the fencing NCAA finals, she was not thinking about a title. Having lost to Ward in the championship sabre bout last season, 15-4, Vloka was simply hoping for a better showing.
Instead, she left the competition as a national champion.
“When I started out the season, I wasn’t going in with any expectations,” the sophomore co-captain said. “But always, in the back of my mind, I remembered the loss last year.”
After taking a summer off from intense training, Vloka took second place at the NCAA Northeast Regionals and earned the silver medal at the Garret Penn State Open.
She led her team to a 15-8 record and a final No. 9 national ranking.
Despite having a sophomore regular season that was, on paper, less successful than her rookie year, Vloka entered the NCAA Championships, held in Cambridge, with a finals appearance in mind—hoping for one that resulted in more than four points.
When Duke’s Ward qualified for the title bout, more than a medal was at stake. Vloka’s 15-13 victory over Ward was less about a championship and more about a comeback, a long-awaited victory over a decade-long rival.
“It didn’t set in until a week later that I actually finally beat her,” Vloka said. “Every time I think about it, I have such an emotional reaction. Everyone knows how much this win means to me.”
Teammate Karl Harmenberg is one who knows how much the victory meant.
“It’s a destiny story,” the men’s co-captain said. “She won the championship bout at home against a girl she’s never beaten. If anyone would do it, it would be Caroline.”
Vloka entered the final day of NCAA competition in fifth and earned 19 wins to capture the title.
In addition to her national title, the sophomore was also named to the All-American and All-Ivy League First Teams for the second year running.
Vloka’s success this year, particularly in the postseason, is due to a different, more relaxed attitude, complemented by an unchanging competitive, confident spirit.
“Caroline is very confident on the strip,” sophomore teammate Valentin Staller said. “Whether she’s competing against a weak fencer or an Olympic medalist, she gives it her best.”
“She’s a great fencer physically, tactically, and mentally,” Harmenberg added. “She can handle the pressure.”
With two years left in her career at Harvard, Vloka will likely continue her success as a captain and competitor.
“I would love to be in the finals for the next two years,” the champion said. “Hopefully I can stay at the top.”
—Staff writer B. Marjorie Gullick can be reached at email@example.com.