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Though the Harvard men’s fencing team could not find a way to stave off its second defeat at the hands of Penn State for the second time this season to start off the St. John’s Invitational, the group won out the rest of the day to take the tournament in a tiebreaker.
“The team came out with so much energy—we wanted to prepare for [Ivy matches] to make sure that we were ready for that environment,” junior foilist Michael Woo said. “All of us were in our most intense mode...and the freshmen [who] haven’t had much college fencing really stepped up today.”
After beginning their day with tie against host St. John’s, the Crimson women had a tougher afternoon, finishing with a 1-3-1 record despite 12 individual bout wins from senior épéeist Emma Vaggo and sophomore sabré fencer Adrienne Jarocki.
HARVARD MEN’S FENCING
0-10 stood the group’s all-time record against Notre Dame before Saturday, a matchup that has vexed Harvard coach Peter Brand’s teams for years.
And like last season’s 14-13 loss at the hands of the Fighting Irish, the outcome came down to the wire. But thanks to stellar performances from freshman foilist Eli Dershwitz and others, the match ended with the Crimson (7-2) putting an end to Notre Dame’s historic dominance.
“Eli is an amazing competitor, [and] I’ve never seen a freshman come in here with [his] kind of work ethic,” Woo said. “He actually started off pretty rough today...but he responded well by going 8-0 in his next bouts and finishing the day strong.”
Another strong Brand recruit, Dershwitz, who earned gold at the Budapest Junior World Cup last year, has notched 23 bout wins against just four defeats thus far in his first season with Harvard.
Three of those first to five touch losses came against Penn State, which was the only team to defeat Harvard as a team on Saturday.
“I started slowly…[and] the whole team was counting on each other, so I tried my best to forget about it,” Dershwitz said.
Despite sharing a 4-1 record with the Nittany Lions and the Fighting Irish, the Crimson was awarded the invitational win as the team with the most total bout wins for the day.
“Even in the bouts where we were losing, we still fought...push[ing] each other the whole day,” Dershwitz added.
11 bout wins from the Sherborn, Mass. native was only enough to propel the sabré fencers to a 2-3 match record on the day. It was the foil contingent Woo, junior Jerry Chang, and sophomore Stephen Mageras who carried the team with a collective 5-0 match record, with each of the three finishing with 10 bout victories apiece.
“We tried to make [the non-Ivy matchups] as serious as possible and treat it like the real thing,” Woo said. “So I think the mentality [was] different today.”
Sophomore épéeist Alexander Eldeib also had 10 bout victories to make it five Crimson men with double-digit wins on Saturday.
HARVARD WOMEN’S FENCING
Outside of the sabré trio’s 4-0-1 match record—upping the weapon’s mark to 10-0-1 for the year—the Harvard women had a tough time finding the few extra individual bout wins necessary to notch team wins. With the competition much stronger than fencers the Crimson faced at the Tradition Tournament in early December, Harvard came away with its first three losses of the season.
The major bright spot of the day came with the Crimson’s second victory over Penn State this season—though it was a 14-13 nailbiter rather than the 21-6 rout of the Nittany Lions in December.
“For me [as] a freshman, it’s still pretty nerve-wrecking going into [the tournament],” said épéeist Claire Dinhut. “But [it] being the second time we faced Penn State also, we had more confidence, since we had done well against them last time.”
With the Ivy League Round Robins in two weeks, the Crimson women will have to put the losses of 16-11, 15-12, and 16-11 to Columbia, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, respectively, behind them. If the past is any indication, Harvard finished 2-3 at last year’s closely contested St. John’s Invitational and then went on to a second place finish at the round robins.
—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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