On a weekend where every touch was fought with intensity and passion, great respect was manifest but no love was lost between Ivy League fencing rivals Harvard and Columbia. The two schools, after all, were battling for supremacy at the Ivy League North Championship (Feb. 25) at Harvard’s Gordon Track and Field Center.
Reigning NCAA men’s epee champion Benji Ungar ’08 saw to it that the 4th-ranked Crimson (12-1 overall; 4-1 Ivy) wouldn’t be denied, earning Harvard a share of the 2007 Ivy League championship with their New York opponents by scoring a dramatic victory over Columbia’s Dwight Smith and giving the Crimson a narrow 14-13 result over the previously undefeated Lions. This is the third-straight year Harvard men have figured in the league championship; in 2006, they won the title outright.
The Harvard men entered the weekend still smarting from a 16-11 loss to Princeton at the Ivy League South Championships (held Feb. 11 in Philadelphia). Heading into Sunday’s competition, the Crimson were also dealing with a variety of injury concerns and absences, including men’s team captain and former All-Ivy League selection Sam Cross ’07 as he continues his battle with leukemia.
“With our men’s early loss to Princeton coupled with ongoing injury problems I was concerned about our chances against Columbia,” said Harvard head coach Peter Brand. “However, with six victories in epee and a respectable showing by both our foil and saber squads, we prevailed – a great testament to the character of our team.”
The Harvard men started the day in good fashion with a lopsided 25-2 victory over Brown, capping it off with a solid 19-8 win against Yale, but it was the round against Columbia that gave Harvard a share of the Ivy title and many Crimson supporters a sample of the best that collegiate fencing has to offer. While the Lions claimed slight (5-4) squad victories in both sabre and foil, Harvard earned a 6-3 victory in epee, thanks to Ungar’s perfect record. Ungar’s efforts were augmented by a strong performance from junior Teddy Sherrill.
The Crimson women (13-2 overall; 5-1 Ivy), ranked No. 3 in the most recent USFCA College Fencing Coaches’ Poll, entered Sunday’s competition tied with second-ranked Columbia, with both teams possessing identical records of 3-0 in Ivy League competition.
The Crimson’s dreams of a third successive Ivy League title were denied, however, as the exceptionally talented Columbia team – led by 2004 U.S. Olympian Emily Jacobsen – overwhelmed the Harvard women. The host Crimson found themselves on the wrong end of a 22-5 score-line, having been dealt comprehensive defeats in both foil and sabre, but rallied to pick up a victory in the epee events, winning by a score of 5-4 on the strength of wins from Maria Larsson ’09 and Jasmine McGlade ’07.
The women fared better against both Brown and Yale, with the 2005 and 2006 Ivy League champion Crimson earning identical 20-7 victories over both schools. Ultimately, though, the Crimson clearly missed the services of All-American foilist Emily Cross ’08, the former junior world champion currently on leave from the team as she trains to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic squad.
With the dual-meet season completed, coach Brand now looks to focus his efforts on keeping the teams healthy as they prepare for the IFA Championships in Lawrenceville, N.J., on Saturday (March 3) and the NCAA Northeast Regional competition to be held on March 10 at Tufts. Fencers from the NCAA regionals can advance to the NCAA Championships, which Harvard captured for the first time in school history in 2006.