Despite missing a number of starters, Columbia fencing excelled this past Saturday at the Intercollegiate Fencing Association Championships, the oldest collegiate athletic competition of any sport. The Lions earned the women’s team title, along with three individual gold medals, one silver, and one bronze.
“I was thrilled with the performance,” head coach George Kolombatovich said. “I was especially happy with the first-years. I knew we had very talented upperclassmen, but the women’s sabre team tied for first and they are all first-years. It was a truly phenomenal performance given how young the team is.”
Columbia’s women’s team earned a total of 78 victories in the competition, besting runner-up Penn by six bouts. The men won 56 bouts, third best in the competition behind Ivy champion Penn and Harvard. In the overall six-weapon competition, Columbia finished second behind the Quakers by nine wins, but got revenge in the individual competition.
The Lions’ first medal of the day came from defending NCAA sabre champion Jeff Spear, who took on Ivy foe Andrew Bielen of Penn. After falling behind 11-6, Spear recorded eight consecutive touches to take a 14-11 lead, eventually finishing off Bielen 15-12 to take his second consecutive IFA gold.
“One of the things that has happened with Jeff this year is that he’s started to work with [assistant coach] Aladar Kogler,” Kolombatovich said. “The biggest difference in his game that I can see is his footwork and how it has improved drastically. He’s only going to get better with time.”
Sophomore foilist Nicole Ross earned Columbia’s second gold of the day with her dominating performance through the individual stage, winning her semifinal and final bouts by 15-4 scores. Freshman epeeist Neely Brandfield-Harvey earned the Lions their third gold of the weekend, defeating Harvard’s Swedish international, Maria Larsson, 15-13 in the championship bout.
“I really think our mental consistency is becoming stronger,” Kolombatovich said. “Nicole is extremely steady as she’s a very talented fencer and has a very good sense of timing and distance. She keeps a level head and when you have the kind of skill she has as only a sophomore, it makes her an extremely valuable asset.”
Senior co-captain Sherif Farrag went 9-0 in his round-robin matches and, despite having a 14-9 lead in the championship match, fell 15-14 to his Penn counterpart Alex Simmons. Freshman sabrist Stephanie Aiuto got the Lions their fifth medal of the day with her bronze-medal performance, capping off a tremendous collegiate season that saw her tie for the best record of any sabrist during Ancient Eight competition.
“When you fence well, it’s a real confidence builder,” Kolombatovich said. “Our fencers are experienced, they knew what they are capable of and it bodes very well for Regionals coming up.”
Columbia travels back to Cambridge next weekend for the NCAA Northeast Regionals at MIT on Sunday, March 8.