Crimson Stymied by Penn State, Tops Five Other Programs

Kevin H. Lin

Senior Caroline Vloka, an NCAA bronze medalist in the saber, had a perfect 18-0 record Saturday to lead Harvard to a 5-1 record in the Penn State Invitational. The women’s team dropped Temple, North Carolina, NYU, Sacred Heart, and Vassar and lost to defending national champion Penn State.

After opening its season with a strong showing in the Garret Open hosted by Penn State in November, the Harvard men’s and women’s fencing teams returned Saturday to State College, Pa., for the Penn State Invitational.

The Crimson turned an impressive performance against top-tier fencing programs Vassar, Penn State, UNC, NYU, Sacred Heart and Temple.

Three male fencers finished in the top 10 in their respective divisions in the Garret Open. This weekend, the men once again got off to a solid start.

In its opening match, the Crimson defeated Vassar by a convincing margin of 21-6. Harvard followed up its victory against the Owls with a 19-8 win over the Tar Heels, a 21-6 win over the Violets, and a 17-10 win over the Pioneers.

The epee squad on the men’s side played a crucial role in the matches against the Tar Heels and the Owls.

Leading the Crimson men were epee fencers sophomore Mike Raynis, who went 11-1 for the day and senior James Hawrot, who posted a 12-3.

In the saber, freshman Alexander Ryjik dominated the field with a 13-2 record, including a win over former NCAA champion Olec Ochocki of Penn State.

In the foil, walk-on junior Thomas Snell captured a pair of wins against a strong Nittany Lions squad.

But in spite of the dominant victories in the tournament, the Harvard men were unable to run the table, as the Crimson dropped its match against hosts Penn State, 15-12, to finish the tournament with a 5-1 record.

“We all did fairly well in this tournament,” freshman epee fencer Peregrine Badger said. “In the match against Penn State, there were a few calls that could have gone either way, so the score could have easily been 14-13 or 15-12 in our favor. So I don’t think that the actual results against Penn State is indicative of our performance in this tournament, with respect to PSU. In the end we beat all the other schools that we faced, which is always good.”

“Overall it was a very good performance for us,” Harvard coach Peter Brand said. “Though both sides lost to Penn State, it was a close match on both sides. Penn State is a perennial powerhouse—they were second at the NCAAs last year—and I think we would have done better against Penn State this time, except for the fact that our freshman fencer on the men’s side Brian Kaneshige—a high performer for the team—was away at tryouts to make the national team. Even then, I think we had a great outing against Penn State and the rest of the field on both the men’s and women’s sides.”

The women also had a productive outing. After capturing gold medals at last month’s Garret Open, defending national champion sophomore foil fencer Alexandra Kiefer and senior saber fencer Caroline Vloka returned to the mat hoping that some of that momentum would carry over to the Penn State Invitational.

Kiefer and Vloka did not disappoint, as they posted individual records of 15-1 and 16-0, respectively, to lead the women’s side to a overall team record of 5-1 for the day.

Though the women dropped their opening match against host Penn State, 16-11, they reversed the score next against Temple to win, 16-11.

The Harvard women closed out the tournament in commanding style with four straight victories, topping UNC, 19-8, NYU, 21-6, Sacred Heart, 22-5, and Vassar, 25-2.

With both the men’s and women’s teams posting strong performances, the day’s outcome proved quite promising for the Crimson as it sets its sights on Ivy League play after winter break.

For Brand, the holiday could not come at a better time for the team.

“In general, we have been dealing with quite a few injuries this year, so the break is coming for us just as the right time. We need our guys to heal and recover in time for the upcoming Ivy season.”

—Staff writer Oluwatoni A. Campbell can be reached at