The St. John’s University fencing team was unable to defend its 2001 National Title, but continued to prove its excellence with a second-place finish at the NCAA Championships this weekend from Drew Universtiy in New Jersey.
Despite the team’s loss to Pennsylvania State University two Red Storm fencers were able to take home gold medals for individual performance. Junior Ivan Lee (Brooklyn, NY) defeated Jakub Krochmalski of Wayne State to make it back-to-back gold medals for him in the sabre. Lee has led the team all season long and is currently ranked first in the United States and among the top-ten of the world in the sabre. He won the gold in last years competition and will also compete for the US team in the World Championships this August in Portugal.
Freshman standout Arpad Horvath (Budapest, Hungary) also brought a gold medal back to Queens by beating Princeton’s Soren Thompson 15-9 in the epee. Horvath won all nine of his bouts on Sunday, the final day of competition, to take the title.
Penn State won this year’s NCAA Championship with 195 total points. St. John’s (190) was edged out in the final round when Penn State clinched its win with a victory in the foil. This makes the seventh title in eight years for the Nittany Lions, who met their only loss to the Red Storm last season.
On the women’s side, freshman Julia Gelman (Brooklyn, NY), who is the daughter of coach Yury Gelman, earned the bronze in the sabre with a dramatic 15-14 victory over Temple’s Sakinah Shaahid.
Epee specialist Emese Takacs (Budapest, Hungary) could not back up her gold and silver finishes of the past two NCAA Championships. She still finished a very-respectable fourth place but was negated a medal by Northwestern’s Kate Rudkin.
After two days of women’s bouts St. John’s sat in first place. Their 100 points put them three ahead of second-place Notre Dame. But, with only 5 male fencers in the championships, compared with 6 for Penn State and Notre Dame, the Johnnies knew their second straight championship was still far in the distance.
“The girls were amazing,” said Lee. “We knew going in that they had to set us up well, and they won 100 bouts!”
The hole in the men’s lineup came when fencer Joe Fisher was dismissed from the team for violating team rules. This left the Red Storm with only 5 male fencers to compete with. Lee says that the team predicted 100 bouts would be necessary of the men to win the title. This would mean an average of twenty wins per fencer, which is a lot to expect in championship competition. They couldn’t quite reach the lofty goals but with ninety bouts between them, and a second place finish they were satisfied.
“I’m happy, Yury’s happy, the team’s happy,” Lee added. “If we had not have dismissed Joe we would have probably won it, but rules are rules. [Penn St] took advantage of a 1-man edge. They deserved to win it.”
Notre Dame was the only other school to pose a real shot at the title. They finished with 186 points, and were followed by Ohio State (140) and Columbia (96).
St. John’s continues to make a name for itself in the upper echelon of the NCAA fencing elite. For the past seven years, led by coach Yury Gelman, the Red Storm men’s and women’s teams have combined to finish among the top-five each season. With Lee, Horvath, Takacs and Gelman all returning next season we should expect to see more of the same.