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Season Preview: Fencing Seeks Return to Title Contention

Pictured: Co-captain Long Ouyang and the Crimson open the season at the Garret Penn State Open Nov. 21.
Photo courtesy: David Silverman Photography

The Harvard fencing team enters the 2009-10 season after experiencing success throughout last winter. In 2008-09, the Crimson finished the season ranked third on the women’s side and seventh on the men’s on its way to a fifth-place finish at the national championships hosted by Penn State. The women will look to repeat as Ivy League champions after winning their third title in five years last season.

Harvard returns four All-Ivy fencers, sophomores Naom Mills, Caroline Vloka, Valentin Staller and senior Karl Harmenberg. The Crimson graduated former All-Americans Kai Itameri-Kinter, Ben Ungar and Emily Cross. Other key fencers lost were Craig Gorin and Scott DiGiulio on the men’s team and Maria Larsson, Elizabeth Bast and Lisa Vastola from the women’s squad.

Last winter, the men finished with a 9-9 overall record and 1-4 mark in the Ancient Eight while the women went undefeated in the Ivy League with a 6-0 record and posted a remarkable 20-1 overall record. Harvard men and women placed second and fourth, respectively, at the IFA Championships held at Brandeis.

Men’s Sabre
The sabre squad has plenty of youth to compliment its extensive experience heading into the season. Made up of two sophomores and two freshmen, Ivan Bochkov and Valentin Staller will be the leaders of the sabres. The departures of DiGulio and Gorin left a hole in which Bochkov, Staller and rookies Thomas Kolasa and Michael Tom will need to fill. Kolasa and Tom will be relied up due to their experience on the national and international circuits.

In 2008-09, Staller garnered first-team All-Ivy League honors as well as capturing the silver medal at the NCAA Regionals and 15th-place at the NCAA Championships.

Men’s Foil
With five foil fencers, the Crimson has a healthy mix of experience, youth and leadership. A senior, two juniors and two freshmen gives head coach Peter Brand depth in the weapon. Former All-American Itameri-Kinter left big shoes to fill in the foil. The lone senior foil returning is co-captain Long Ouyang who placed 19th at last year’s NCAA Regionals. Juniors Nick Culbertson and Hao Meng will be looked upon to perform well throughout the season. Meng placed sixth at the IFA Championships and 16th at the NCAA Regionals.

The Crimson added Thomas Snell and Tomasso di Robilant for the upcoming season.

Men’s Epee
Harvard’s men’s epee squad boasts six fencers: two seniors, a junior, a sophomore and a pair of freshmen. Harvard lost just one senior in the epee; unfortunately it was Benjamin Ungar, a 2006 national champion. Seniors Christian Bjelland and co-captain Karl Harmenberg will be the leaders on the epee squad. Junior Wesley Talcott and sophomore James Harwot will also add experience and leadership to the squad.

Harmenberg, a second-team All-Ivy League selection last year, placed 23rd at the NCAA Championships and won the gold medal at the NCAA Regionals. Along with Harmenberg, Bjelland, Harwot and Talcott will add depth and be relied upon for their experience. Rookies Benjamin Cohen and Ben White join this year’s Crimson team. White has international experience under his belt since he was a member of the United Kingdom junior national team.

Women’s Sabre
Sophomore co-captain Caroline Vloka, the Crimson’s top returning sabre, anchors an experience sabre squad. The first-team All-American and All-Ivy League selection, took second at the NCAA Championships and fifth at the NCAA Regionals. Junior Yunsoo Kim, sophomore Hayley Levitt and freshman Elena Helgiu round out the sabre squad. Levitt placed 16th at the NCAA Regionals in her rookie campaign.

Women’s Foil
The foil squad is made up of a trio of seniors, a sophomore and a freshman. Seniors Artemisha Goldfeder, Arielle Pensler and Anna Podolsky will be the leaders of the foils and all will look to continue the success that they have experienced in past years. The departure of All-American and Olympic silver medalist Emily Cross will be softened due to the depth in the foil corps. Goldfeder was a first-team All-Ivy selection and took home the gold medal while Pensler took the bronze in the foil at the IFA Championships last year. Podolsky placed 18th at the NCAA Regionals last winter. Sophomore Shelby MacLeod had a successful first season, placing 17th at the NCAA Championships and earning the bronze medal at the NCAA Regionals. Freshman Katherine Chou joins the Crimson as the only rookie foil on the roster.

Women’s Epee
Sophomore co-captain Naom Mills looks to make another run at the national title. Mills is coming off a seventh place finish at the 2009 European Championships in Bulgaria over the summer. She took second place at the NCAA Championships, garnered first-team All-America and All-Ivy League honors and won the gold medal at the NCAA Regionals in her first season. Rookies Nadia Eldeib, Alexa Fishman and Felicia Sun will compliment Mills in the epee and will look to fill the void left by Elizabeth Bast, Maria Larsson and Lisa Vastola.

Schedule
The 2009-10 season commences Nov. 21-22 at the Penn State Open. Harvard will host two consecutive events, the Harvard Invitational Nov. 29 and a women’s dual match against Tufts. Harvard will then take over a month off from competition until the St. John’s Invitational Jan. 24. Harvard will travel to Brandeis to take on Duke, MIT and the Judges Jan 30. Once again, the Crimson will take almost a month hiatus from competition before traveling to Ithaca, N.Y. to compete in Part I of the Ivy League Championships Feb. 21. Bay State bragging rights will be on the line Feb. 24 as Harvard competes in the Beanpot against MIT, Brandeis and Boston College. The second edition of the Ivy League Championships is slated to be held Feb. 28 in Philadelphia, Pa. The NCAA Regionals are scheduled for Mar. 14 in Providence, R.I. and the NCAA Championships will be held Mar. 25-28.