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After a long winter layoff, the Harvard men’s and women’s fencing teams took to the strips once again, this time in Queens, N.Y., where both squads competed in the annual St. John’s Invitational to kick off the 2017 spring season.
With both squads entering the day ranked seventh in the country, the Crimson men’s side (5-5) suffered close defeats and finished with a 1-4 match record against other top collegiate fencing programs, while the Harvard women (5-6) ended their day with a 2-3 match record.
Despite the constant presence of NCAA saber individual champion and Crimson co-captain Adrienne Jarocki—who fenced her way to her standard stellar performance with a plus-32 touch differential for the day—it was the foil squad that had a large impact on the team’s performance.
In Harvard’s two victories against Penn State and host St. John’s, the foil trio carried the group with records of 7-2 and 9-0, respectively. However, in the three defeats against Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Columbia, the same weapon finished with marks of 2-7, 3-6, and 2-7, respectively.
“The St. John’s Invitational is always the hardest and most competitive meet of the year,” co-captain Liana Yamin said. “There’s no easy person to fence there...it seemed that many of our losses were close 5-4 [defeats]. We were fencing really well—it just was a matter of having the right strategy against certain schools and maintaining our energy throughout the day.”
In customary fashion, the single-day competition featured some of the top fencing programs in the nation, with the Crimson’s three defeats coming at the hands of opponents ranked first through fourth in the nation, and victories against the fifth and 10th-ranked schools in the country.
“It’s important that we learn from this competition, [such as] keeping our energy levels up against the toughest competition against the NCAA and how to mentally prepare ourselves for challenges like that,” Yamin said.
Whereas in previous years, the deciding few bouts may have swung the Crimson’s way for the most part, that was certainly not the case this go around for the Harvard men.
The morning began with a head-to-head battle with host St. John’s, which ended in the Crimson’s first of two 14-13 losses for their day. Despite a strong foil showing with a record of 7-2, the other two weapons were unable to nab the remaining seven bout victories necessary for the team victory.
A 27-bout skirmish with Ohio State produced a similar result—while the foil trio posted a 6-3 mark, saber and épée could only put together records of 4-5 and 2-7, respectively, costing Harvard the early-season match.
“It’s definitely a learning experience,” junior co-captain Eric Zhao said. “These schools are all top-10 in the nation and the fact that we were one bout away [in multiple matches] proves that we’re right at their level...and just a few tweaks away from getting it right in the future.”
Notre Dame and Columbia defeated the Crimson by scores of 15-12 and 14-13, respectively, in close matches later on in the afternoon.
The Crimson’s lone win came against Penn State, with the saber squad carrying the group with a 7-2 bout record to prevent Harvard’s team performance from ending in an goose egg in the win column.
“These meets, as important as they are, aren’t what our ultimate goal is, which is doing well at Ivies and NCAAs,” Zhao said. “These are great tune-ups in terms of getting up to that level to perform well there. I think we’re going to peak at the right time…We know where we are, and we know we can peak at the right level.”
2016 United States Olympic Team saber competitor and now-sophomore Eli Dershwitz earned a plus-24 touch differential for his day to key Harvard’s saber group, but even his efforts were not enough to net the Crimson a winning record for the tournament.
—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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