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Records Breaking, Ancient Eight Fencing, and Team USA: An Interview with Harvard Fencing’s Head Coach Daria Schneider

Senior sabre Elizabeth Tartakovsky competes in a match against New York University's Sharon Ni on January 28. The Crimson went on to win the match 18-9, and most recently took fourth place out of 28 teams at the NCAA Championships in N.C.
Senior sabre Elizabeth Tartakovsky competes in a match against New York University's Sharon Ni on January 28. The Crimson went on to win the match 18-9, and most recently took fourth place out of 28 teams at the NCAA Championships in N.C. By Jennifer Z. Liang
By Josephine S. Elting, Contributing Writer

In only four years in her role as the head coach of Harvard fencing, Daria Schneider has made quick work of the Ivy League. In addition to winning two team Ivy League championships, in 2020 and 2023, Schneider has coached several players to individual Ivy League championships. Moreover, she is the first female coach of a men’s Ivy League fencing team, setting a new standard for equality amongst the Ancient Eight schools.

Harvard men's fencing (23-2, 4-0 Ivy League) has had a strong season that included an Ivy League Championship. This year’s championship was played in Ithaca, NY, where the Crimson topped the four other schools that qualified for the tournament. Their final match was against Coach Schneider’s alma mater, Columbia, where Harvard won 16-11. The Crimson proved itself on the individual side of the tournament as well, with senior Filip Dolegiewicz who won the individual sabre title, and sophomore James Chen who won the individual foil. The two fencers had busy days at the tournament but were extremely successful, each posting 10-2 records.

The two losses this season came in close matches with Ohio State and Notre Dame, who have won four out of the last five NCAA national championships. Due to her outstanding coaching and results, Schneider was named this season's Ivy League Men’s Fencing Coach of the Year.

While she is new to the Harvard program, Schneider is not new to the Boston area. She was born in Berkeley, Calif., but at a young age moved to Brookline, Mass., a Boston suburb on the Green Line. Around the age of ten, she started fencing. Of the three styles of fencing, foil, sabre, and epee, Schneider found most of her success in sabre. She won gold at the 2003 and 2004 Junior Olympics for Team USA. After her time with the junior team, she joined Team USA for five seasons and was issued the honor of team captain.

During her time with Team USA, the United States won the world championship in 2011 and 2012. While fencing professionally, Schneider studied Russian Literature and fenced at Columbia University, where her fencing career at Columbia was just as impressive as her one with Team USA — marking a 124-20 record and winning the NCAA sabre championship in 2007. She showed great leadership as she did with Team USA, earning the title of co-captain. Upon graduation, she became an assistant coach at Columbia and was also inducted into the Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame.

Even though Schneider is now a full-time coach at Harvard, the idea of fencing again for fun one day is not completely out of the question. She is still entertaining the idea of a competition or two in the future as a “vet” fencer.

“Maybe as a Vet fencer! I’m only five years away from Vet 40!” the head coach joked. “All kidding aside, I might do a competition at some point but it would be for fun.”

Schneider’s contributions to the sport of fencing go beyond her skills and coaching. When she became the interim head coach of Cornell Fencing in 2016, she was the first female head coach of a men’s Ivy League fencing team and one of very few female head coaches amongst all Division I programs.

“The importance of it to me is that I am not denied access to a job I love and I think I’m decent at because of my gender,” she said.

She has certainly proved through her many achievements the value she adds to the programs she is a part of. As head coach, Schneider sets an example for other Harvard teams and other Division I programs of how strong their teams can be with female coaches at the helm.

In addition to creating a strong program, her staff has shown that having women on the coaching staff is healthy for the student-athletes.

“As far as my team, I have had many athletes share anecdotes of times they’ve been relieved that there are women on our staff who they can go to for things or just see be in leadership roles and be inspired by but more importantly to see women leading be normalized,” Schneider commented.

Both the women's and men’s fencing teams at Harvard have had seven fencers qualify for the NCAA championship set to take place in Durham, N.C. on March 23-26. Throughout the season, the team has worked to create a strong team environment that makes Schneider proud.

“I’m most proud of my players for finding respectful ways to ask questions and make the learning process a dialogue instead of leaving us to exist in a monologue. Especially with our seniors and some of our juniors, I’m proud of their efforts to build meaningful relationships with their coaches and teammates and to see us as human beings as well as leaders and educators,” Schneider reflected

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