Harvard fencing lunged, parried, and riposted its way to successful finishes in both the men’s and women’s divisions during this weekend’s preseason-starting Penn State Open.
The tournament, which was scored individually rather than as a team, saw nine top-10 finishers across men’s and women’s foil, epee, and saber. Taking place nearly a month prior to the official start of the season, the match served as a check-in, showing the athletes where to keep progressing and where to put more focus.
“I think people’s physical abilities, and the strength and conditioning we’ve been doing, has really paid off,” said co-captain Eli Dershwitz, a saber fencer. “This was a really good preseason tournament for us to get ready for the rest of the season.”
The tournament, which kept each competitor fencing for most of the day, attracted powers in the sport from across the country.
“The format of it is just to make sure all the athletes get as many bouts as possible,” Dershwitz said. “I think this was so great for everyone on the team to get so many opportunities to practice [and] get really, highly competitive bouts against some of the big powerhouses in the country, like Notre Dame was there, the defending two-time NCAA champion, Penn State was there, Ohio State, some of the other big names.”
Junior George Haglund earned Harvard’s top finish of the tournament across both teams, fencing his way to a bronze medal in foil. Haglund advanced to the semi-finals before falling 15-14 to Penn State freshman and eventual champion Sebastian Tirado.
Four of the five members from last year’s NCAA tournament team, which finished fifth in the nation, returned to the team this season. Last year’s team was also crowned Ivy League champions.
The men’s team put individuals in the top 10 for every event, with Haglund and junior Matt Branman both achieving that mark in foil. Despite the solo nature of fencing, Haglund chalked up his some of his success to the newest member of the Crimson’s fencing staff, assistant coach Matteo Zennaro
“We just got a new foil coach, … he’s an awesome guy,” Haglund said. “He was really helpful.”
Zennaro, who specializes in foil, served as an assistant coach for Ohio State last year after a decade helming the Italian Junior National team - a role he came into after his own time as a member of the Italian National Team, where he picked up a silver medal at the 1999 World Championships in Seoul and earned a bronze during the team event at the 2000 Olympics.
The women’s team, which also placed fifth at the 2018 NCAA National Championship, returns four of its five members.
The team put two in the top-10 for epee and three in the top-10 for saber. Freshman Martha Merriam and co-captain Gabby Tartakovsky, both in saber, advanced to the tournament’s single-elimination quarterfinals, while senior epee fencer Sharon Ra also earned a spot in the top-10.
Merriam notched the highest finish of the day, placing fifth overall in saber after falling in a closely contested 15-12 match against Notre Dame sophomore Reghan Ward. Tartakovsky also fell in a close quarterfinal match, finishing sixth after a 15-13 loss.
Both Harvard teams return to competition on December 2 against NYU, Vassar, Sacred Heart, Penn State, and Temple at the Sacred Heart Invitational in Fairfield, Conn.
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