Two years removed from a self-described disappointing third-place finish at the 2015 NCAA Championships, sophomore saber fencer Eli Dershwitz returned to the individual final four after a dominant pool play effort. Two direct elimination bouts later, Dershwitz would go on to add NCAA individual champion to his already long list of athletic accomplishments.
Less than a year before, Dershwitz had been facing off against the best fencers in the world at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This time, however, it was his opponents that would have to do so.
“As the only Olympian in the event, people thought he was favored, but it was still quite an accomplishment,” junior co-captain Eric Zhao said. “For Eli to keep his composure, keep himself poised throughout the entire competition, and win it all is a testament to how skilled he is and how well he can handle any pressure on any given day.”
After tallying six bout wins more than his closest competitor in the initial round to earn the top seed for the final direct elimination bouts, Dershwitz continued to roll, defeating St. John’s Ben Natanzon by a 15-6 cark, and then Wayne State competitor Ziad Elsissy in the championship by a 15-10 mark.
“Eli is one of the hardest workers—he shows up to practice early, he pushes everyone as a great team leader,” freshman foil fencer Matthew Branman said. “He raises the bar for all of us, and that’s really awesome for the team.”
While Dershwitz and 10 other Harvard fencers competed for individual titles, their composite scores also added up to a team tally that was used to determine the NCAA team title. Led by Dershwitz’s victory as well as other strong performances by Crimson team members, Harvard finished fifth out of 27 schools represented, behind victor Notre Dame, Ohio State, Columbia/Barnard, and Princeton.
“Two schools qualified 12, but we were one of three or four schools that qualified 11 [fencers],” Zhao said. “So already right off the bat, it looked like we should have finished top five or six…. I think this is a good finish to the season that we can build upon going into next year.”
“The team is very young overall, and this is a good building point,” Zhao continued.
Missing from the individual title winners was women’s co-captain Adrienne Jarocki, who just missed qualifying for the women’s saber final four despite a 15-8 pool play record and had to settle for sixth-place. A two-time NCAA saber title winner, Jarocki finishes her Crimson fencing career as its first and only two-time title winner and a second team All-American as a senior.
In men’s foil, the freshmen duo of George Haglund and Branman finished their strong first seasons with 15-8 and 10-13 pool play bout records, respectively. Joining Dershwitz in saber was freshman Erwin Cai, whose 13-10 record in pool play was good enough for a 12th-place finish.
Sophomore Albert Chien, competing in the national round of NCAAs for the first time, narrowly missed the final four, tallying a 14-9 record and a plus-12 indicator to finish seventh in the 24 person pool.
On the women’s side, sophomore saber fencer Gabby Tartakovsky finished with a 7-16 record, while junior and senior foil fencers MacKenzie Lawrence and Hali Nelson finished in 21st and 22nd, respectively. In epee, sophomores Shawn Wallace and Sharon Ra finished in 20th and 22nd, respectively.
—Staff writer Caleb Y. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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