Junior saber fencer Adrienne Jarocki chats with Harvard coach Peter Brand in between bouts at the FIE Sabre Grand Prix. Jarocki claimed her second NCAA title in her collegiate career.

Female Athlete of the Year: Adrienne Jarocki's Return to Glory

By Caleb Lee, Crimson Staff Writer
Junior saber fencer Adrienne Jarocki chats with Harvard coach Peter Brand in between bouts at the FIE Sabre Grand Prix. Jarocki claimed her second NCAA title in her collegiate career. By Michael D. Ledecky

After she clinched the NCAA individual saber title her freshman season, it may have seemed that junior Adrienne Jarocki did not have much left to prove to the collegiate fencing community.

Yet after a disappointing finish at the individual championships her sophomore campaign—disappointing only in the sense that a tie for third place was a step down on the podium compared to the prior season—Jarocki found herself with something to prove on the biggest collegiate fencing stage her third time around at the yearly event held in nearby Waltham, Mass.

“I think like any NCAA’s, it’s really about persistence, and keeping your focus throughout the two days,” Jarocki said. “[It] is a marathon, so being able to push through it is the key.”

A 19-4 pool play record gave Jarocki the top seed heading into the direct elimination bouts, laying the groundwork for the title run to come. Fourth-seeded UC San Diego fencer Leanne Singleton-Comfort proved to be no match for the Harvard standout, and a 5-0 run to close out the title bout against Princeton’s Gracie Stone marked the end of another successful year and a return to the summit of individual fencing prowess at the college level.

“Words can’t really describe it,” Jarocki said immediately following the bout. “I think that not winning my sophomore year actually makes this win so much sweeter because I was able to overcome that—put it in the past—and do it again.”

Fellow junior co-captain Liana Yamin has seen her teammate’s ups and downs over the course of her career.

“[Adrienne] has always been dominant in the collegiate field,” Yamin said. “She proved that coming out strong freshman year. Sophomore year was definitely a disappointing upset for her, but the fact that she came and won it in junior year proves that it wasn’t in any way a one-time win but a representation of her continued growth.”

Despite her accomplishments on the individual stage, it was the team-focused success that set her junior campaign apart from—if not above—her freshman year efforts.

At the 2014 Ivy League Round Robins, a then-freshman Jarocki went an undefeated 18-0 on the weekend, earning her both Outstanding Performer and Outstanding Rookie Performer honors—a feat achieved for the first time by a Harvard fencer. However, despite six fencers earning All-Ivy honors for their performances, the Crimson was edged by the No. 1 Tigers.

The 2015 rendition of the same event ended in a similar fashion—Jarocki went 18-0 once again, yet two losses as a team relegated the women’s team to a tie for second place.

The third time was indeed the charm for Jarocki and the rest of her Crimson teammates in their quest for a fourth Ivy title in program history.

Ironically enough, it came with Jarocki finally posting a blemish on her previously-unbeaten Ivy performances—she would finish 17-1 over the course of the two-day, six-match marathon.

Despite the single loss, it was one of her final wins that sealed the share of the crown for her team.

“I was fencing the bout just before we found out that we would be co-champions,” Jarocki said. “When I won it, everyone rushed over to me in a group huddle and everyone was crying and laughing and jumping up and down.”

Junior saber fencer Adrienne Jarocki (left) avoids her opponent's attack during the FIE Sabre Grand Prix at the Gordon Indoor Track.
Junior saber fencer Adrienne Jarocki (left) avoids her opponent's attack during the FIE Sabre Grand Prix at the Gordon Indoor Track. By Michael D. Ledecky

The picturesque moment of a triumphantly shouting Jarocki with one knee down at the strip and her teammates rushing towards her jubilantly with outstretched arms was just one of many celebrations for Jarocki on the year, but this one had a slightly different meaning for her.

“This is something we’ve wanted for so long and we haven’t won since 2009, and we always come so close and we just missed it [before],” Jarocki said. “It’s an incredible feeling to win it as a team…. There’s no better feeling than that.”

The victories in 2015-2016 for the women’s fencing team came under the guidance of two juniors—Jarocki and Yamin were nominated and chosen by the rest of the squad as captains before the start of the academic year and took the team to new heights.

“We worked incredibly well this year,” Yamin said. “We had a historic win at the Ivy League Championships, and she’s such a strong leader that it only taught me how to be a better [one]. I’m incredibly proud of what we were able to accomplish in terms of both team wins and team dynamics.”

The team’s schedule for the season was filled with W’s, with the Crimson finishing with a 14-1 team record. The only loss came against then-No. 1 Columbia at the Ivy League Championships, and came after Harvard drubbed Yale and Brown by 22-5 and 25-2 scores, respectively, the day before. Victories against Brandeis, MIT, and Boston College on Feb. 10, just a few days after the exhausting Ivy Championships, resulted in the program’s ninth Beanpot title.

In a performance that has become typical for her at the Beanpot, Jarocki finished 9-0—an improvement upon her 8-1 Beanpot showing her sophomore year. Overall, the women’s saber group carried the team with a 26-1 bout record over the three matches to culminate a nearly-perfect campaign for the team.

Though the Crimson women may have a tough time one-upping its 2015-2016 dominance, the group is poised for even further growth with just one senior—Aliya Itzkowitz—walking at graduation in May and new recruits joining the team in the fall.

In addition, the Jarocki-Yamin captain pair will continue into the future, as the team unsurprisingly nominated the duo to resume its captaining duties after the summer.

“We’re lucky enough to be given the opportunity to continue to work together next season,” Yamin said. “There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes as a co-captain, and it was incredible to see how hard-working, organized and caring [Adrienne] was in that role. I’m so happy to be working in that context again, and I can’t wait to see where that will take us next year.”

With Jarocki using her penultimate year’s worth of experience juggling captaining duties with her own individual performances to improve her focus and abilities, all eyes will be on her to continue her dominance of the sport next season in the quest to string together multiple NCAA titles on both the individual and team level.

—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at caleb.lee@thecrimson.com.

FencingYear in SportsSports Commencement 2016