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The Harvard men’s and women’s fencing teams competed in the NCAA Championships in Durham, N.C. this past weekend.
The women’s team sent six fencers to the championships: senior Elizabeth Tartakovsky (sabre), first-year Zoe Kim (sabre), sophomore Lauren Scruggs (foil), sophomore Ever Marinelli (foil), sophomore Emily Vermeule (epee), and first-year Faith Park (epee).
Tartajovsky, the reigning women's sabre 2022 NCAA national champion, headed into her third tournament looking to continue her dominance. This was Kim, Marinelli, and Park’s first NCAA appearance, while Vermeule and Scruggs were headed into their second career NCAA performance.
After last year’s second-place finish, the Crimson looked to come back and demonstrate its improvement throughout this season. Coming off of a fantastic season with an impressive 19 wins, the second-most in program history, Harvard had immense momentum going into the weekend.
After day three of the competition, the Crimson stood in fifth place with notable contributions from Scruggs, Tartakovsky, and Vermeule.
By the end of the competition, the Crimson walked away with a fourth-place finish, along with strong individual performances from Scruggs, Tartakovsky, and Vermeule.
Scruggs was crowned champion after a stunning win against Princeton's May Tieu in the finals. Pulling away early, Scruggs never looked back and secured the win. She is the first women’s foilist to bring home the gold medal since 2014.
Tartakovsky also brought her all, advancing to the finals after completing a comeback win against Maggie Shealy of Brandeis University in the semifinals. Ultimately, Tartakovsky fell just short of first place in a competitive bout against Columbia's Nora Burke during the finals with a score of 15-13.
At the end of the competition, Vermeule tied for third in women’s epee round-robins, Marinelli finished tenth in the women's foil round-robins, Kim placed eleventh in the women's sabre round-robins, and Park took sixth place in the women’s epee round-robins.
The men’s team sent four fencers: sophomore James Chen (foil), senior Kenji Bravo (foil), junior Jonas Hansen (epee), and first-year Ark Ma (epee).
Chen, Bravo, and Hansen have all appeared at the NCAA championships previously, garnering a bronze medal, eleventh-place finish, and ninth-place finish, respectively. This year’s championship marks a milestone in Ma’s career as his first tournament appearance.
At last year’s championships, the men’s team finished in second place with key contributions from Chen, who tied for third overall, along with Hansen and Bravo who finished ninth and eleventh, respectively.
Junior captain, Hansen, went into the weekend with First-Team All-Ivy League honors, as well as men’s epee Northeast Regional champion.
Hansen did not stop there. While encountering some close bouts throughout the weekend, the Cambridge, Mass. native emerged victorious, earning the title of men’s epee national champion.
“Coming into this year’s NCAA Championship felt much less stressful, bringing our experience from last year and from traveling to compete at the Air Force Academy earlier in the season," Hansen commented. “Personally, I felt that this made for a more enjoyable experience, both in terms of fencing and for the overall trip.”
After finishing in third place after the fifth round of the tournament, Hansen earned a place in the semifinals which took place on March 24th. Matching up against Columbia rival Teddy Lombardo, Hansen had his work cut out for him.
“Having both trained with and competed against Teddy for the past ten years, it was almost poetic that we should meet up in the NCAA semifinals,” Hansen explained. “He is an incredible fencer, and I have come to develop such a strong respect for him, both on and off the fencing strip.”
“I have found it incredibly rewarding in fencing to find that intense competition and friendship often go hand in hand — a kind of friendly rivalry that allows for great a sense of community in an otherwise individualistic sport,” the captain continued.
After a tight match, Hansen secured the win that would send him to the finals against Ohio State’s Paul Veltrup, who he became familiar with throughout the competition.
“Paul and I had traveled in the same pod together for the entire competition, so we had both gotten a good sense of each other’s fencing style when the finals came around,” Hansen said.
Despite trailing early, Hansen turned it around and was able to pull away, securing the win.
“What helped me to gain momentum towards the end was to lock in on actions I was confident in executing, but also getting into the mindset of simply enjoying the moment I was living,” he reflected.
“Just taking a second to consider how cool it is to be at the NCAA Championships in the first place, not to mention the finals, helps me to remember to fence out of joy for the sport rather than out of stress for the best result.”
Hansen is the third epee men’s national champion in Harvard history, and he could not contain his happiness.
“When I left the fencing area just after winning, I was ambushed by a sea of my Harvard teammates, who were all so ecstatic for me that I couldn’t help but be all smiles for the rest of the day,” Hansen beamed.
At the end of the competition, Ark Ma placed 22nd in the men’s epee round-robins, James Chen finished 13th in men’s foil round-robins, and Kenji Bravo placed 15th in men’s foil round-robins, marking an end to Harvard men’s fencing impressive 2022-23 season.
– Staff writer Caroline E. Behrens can be reached at email@example.com.
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