The defending champion Princeton Fencing Team returned to campus Sunday from last weekend’s NCAA Championship in Columbus, Ohio, with an impressive yet slightly disappointing second-place trophy. Princeton fell to winner Penn State 180-159, while narrowly beating third-place St. John’s University by three points. Coming into the tournament, Princeton had qualified the maximum number of 12 competitors for the tournament, one of only three teams to do so, the other two being Ohio State and Penn State.
“In previous years, our women’s team had been by far the strongest, but this year other universities had a lot of talent too, so the gap was narrowing,” senior and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Susannah Scanlan said on the team’s second-place finish. “There was a little bit of an air of disappointment, but overall I think everyone fenced very well.”
The NCAA Championship is composed of six different events over the course of three days: men’s sabre, foil and épée, and women’s sabre, foil and épée. The events are scored first through a round-robin format, the top four fencers in each round-robin advancing to the semifinals; the winners of the semifinals advance, with the non-advancing fencers awarded a tie for third. Team scores are based on the number of individual match wins per team. The women fenced part of their round-robin on Thursday, finishing up on Friday, after which the championship matches were held. The men fenced on Saturday and Sunday.
After three out of five rounds of the women’s round-robin were completed on Thursday, Princeton’s women fencers were winning by four points over Penn State, having won 60 bout victories at that point. Sophomore Gracie Stone was second in saber, winning 12 of her 15 bouts. Scanlan was second in épée, also having won 12 of 15 bouts. On Friday, Princeton remained in first place after the women’s matches by a narrow margin of one point, with all six female competitors receiving all-America honors for the second year in a row. In saber, senior Diamond Wheeler placed 10th. In foil, juniors Ambika Singh and Sharon Gao placed ninth and 11th, respectively. In épée, junior Katharine Holmes placed seventh. Princeton advanced two fencers, Stone and Scanlan, to the semi-finals, both of whom tied for third after falling to Harvard’s Adrienne Jarocki and Stanford’s Francesca Bassa, respectively. Scanlan received her fourth all-American honor, the first Princeton woman to garner four such honors in épée since Maya Lawrence ’02.
Scanlan was happy with her performance in the round-robin, but was “a little frustrated with the end result. … It’s a grueling tournament because over two days you fence 23 competitors and every single match really counts, both for individual all-American honors and for the team. It’s really hard because you can lose to somebody you don’t think you should lose to and it can become a bit of a spiral. Or on the other hand, you can get really amped from beating someone and go into the next match overconfident. You have to keep up your intensity and keep your mind even,” Scanlan said.
Saturday, the third day of competition, saw Penn State pass Princeton in the standings. Sophomore épéeist Jack Hudson won 10 bouts and was sitting in fifth place. Freshman sabrist Peter Pak won 11 bouts and was sitting in sixth.
On Sunday, the gap between Princeton and Penn State widened to 21 points, yet the Tigers fought to keep up momentum and fight off advancing St. John’s, holding on to second place. Hudson managed to advance to the semifinals, but fell to St. John’s Yevgeniy Karyuchenko, finishing tied for third place. In saber, Pak finished fifth, and senior Philip Dershwitz finished 21st. In foil, sophomores Michael Dudey and Rodney Chen finished seventh and 19th, respectively. In épée, freshman Alex House finished 13th. Pak, Dudey and Hudson received all-America honors. This year, while many Tiger fencers received all-America honors, unlike the past two, no Tiger won individual NCAA titles.
Princeton is the only team to have placed in the top four for the past four years and to have finished in the top two for the past three years. While the fencing team ended another strong season, as Scanlan put it, “we fenced very well, but unfortunately Penn State is an incredibly talented team and fenced even better.”