February 8, 2009

Yale Beats Harvard in Ivy Championships, 15-12

Feb. 8, 2009

NEW YORK, N.Y. - The Ivy South Competition was a day of ups and downs for Yale's fencers as they took home a hard-fought win against Harvard, a painfully close loss to Brown and a strong showing against powerhouse Columbia. It was a day of firsts in a season that has seen the end to more than a few four-year droughts. With two more Ivy opponents to go, Yale has already tied last year's 1-4 league record.

The Bulldogs' rollercoaster ride through Columbia's Levien Gymnasium on Sunday began with the match against the hosts and reigning Ivy Champions. Last year, the Bulldogs lost this match 5-22. This year was a different story. Yale started out strong against Columbia and the Lions only took away the win in the third round.

"Up until then, we kept the fight going," noted captain Michael Pearce, who took 13th at NCAAs and was named First-Team All-Ivy last year.

Although Yale lost 10-17, the result was the best score the Bulldogs have had against Columbia in four years. Yale lost both the foil and the epee by just one point. Pearce went undefeated in the epee against Columbia.

Yale v. Columbia (10-17)

Sabre: 2W, 7L
Jonathan Holbrook: 0-3
Adam Fields: 1-2
Stephen Watty: 1-2

Foil: 4W, 5L
John Gurrieri: 2-1
Shiv Kachru: 1-2
Andrew Holbrook: 1-2

Epee: 4W, 5L
Alexander Cohen: 1-2
Michael Pearce: 3-0
Thomas Bell: 0-3

Heartbreak came swiftly after Yale's strong showing against the reigning league champions. Brown came back from last year's 9-18 defeat by Yale and posted a score of 14-13 in their favor.

The team's disappointment was palpable. Pearce noted, "The low point of the day was definitely our 13-14 loss to Brown. The epee squad went 7-2, anchoring the squad, but the unorthodox style of Brown's foil squad got the better of ours."

Against Brown, Pearce again went undefeated. His fellow epeeist and first-time Ivy starter, Thomas Bell, also posted a perfect 3-0 score against Brown. Combined with freshman Alexander Cohen's victory, Yale took a commanding 7-2 win in the epee. This strong victory was unfortunately not enough to overcome the 2-7 defeat in sabre and the narrow 4-5 loss in foil.

"We will use our heartbreaking loss to Brown as motivation for the next two weeks as we train to take on Penn and Princeton," said Pearce.

Yale v. Brown (13-14)

Sabre: 2W, 7L
Sebastian Cano-Besquet: 1-2
Adam Fields: 1-2
Stephen Watty: 0-3

Foil: 4W, 5L
John Gurrieri: 2-1
Nathaniel Botwinick: 1-2
Andrew Holbrook: 0-2
Shiv Kachru: 1-0

Epee: 7W, 2L
Alexander Cohen: 1-2
Michael Pearce: 3-0
Thomas Bell: 3-0

After the tough loss against Brown, Yale regrouped and refocused for their final match of the day: Harvard. A 9-18 decision was posted last year in the Yale-Harvard match. But unlike last year's match against Brown of the same score, the decision against Harvard was not in Yale's favor. This year, however, Yale and Harvard's results over the course of the season have been much more similar.

The Crimson opened the season with four-straight wins, against Sacred Heart (17-10), MIT (15-12), Boston College (20-7) and Brandeis (16-11). The Bulldogs also defeated Sacred Heart (15-12), MIT (15-12), Boston College (16-11) and Brandeis (17-10). While Harvard's 68-40 record in these early matches bested Yale's 63-45, a more important indicator of the match's outcome came later in the season. At the St. John's Invitational on Jan. 24, Harvard lost to St. John's by a score of 14-13. Yale, however, beat St. John's, 15-12. Harvard seemed to be losing ground, while Yale appeared to be gaining it. Yale's wins over Brandeis and St. John's broke a four-year losing streak. The stage was set for a competitive Yale-Harvard clash on Sunday, and the Bulldogs rose to the occasion and trumped Harvard, 15-12, and ended another four-year streak.

"Rebounding from this loss, we beat Harvard which tried to trick our fencers by having a foil fencer fence saber and the top epee fencer fence foil," commented Pearce.

He added, "Fortunately, we took advantage of their mistake and pulled out our first victory against them in four years."

The victory was long awaited for the seniors on the team. Pearce went undefeated for the third time in the epee to post an overall score of 9-0 for the day. Senior Sebastian Cano-Besquet added two more wins against Harvard in sabre for a five-win contribution from the senior class. Sophomore Nathaniel Botwinick (3-0), who took 18th at NCAAs last year, and junior John Gurrieri (1-0), who took 13th and was named First-Team All-Ivy, also went undefeated in the foil against Harvard.

"Brown was a heartbreaker for sure, but we redeemed our spirits and Yale when we defeated Harvard 15-12," said Gurrieri.

He added, "We had a lot energy and high spirits all day, but sometimes the cards just aren't in your favor. I am extremely proud of how much support we gave each other. The support of the whole team is incredibly crucial: it helps those fencing keep up the intensity, and today we were all really there for each other and functioned as one unit."

Gurrieri also wanted to acknowledge the contribution of his teammates who do not regularly start in the weekend's successes.

"Every member of the team is incredibly important, and this year we have not only been blessed with many hardworking, dedicated and skilled starters, but we have a large group of motivated and extremely helpful non-starters who really make a strong difference and help the team immensely," he said.

Yale v. Harvard (15-12)

Sabre: 3W, 6L
Jonathan Holbrook: 0-2
Sebastian Cano-Besquet: 2-1
Adam Fields: 1-2
Stephen Watty: 0-1

Foil: 7W, 2L
Nathaniel Botwinick: 3-0
Shiv Kachru: 2-1
Andrew Holbrook: 1-1
John Gurrieri: 1-0

Epee: 5W, 4L
Michael Pearce: 3-0
Thomas Bell: 2-1
Alexander Cohen: 0-3

The Bulldogs have two weeks of practice before the second part of the Ivy Championships takes place in Providence, R.I., on Feb. 22.

Certain yet to be determined members of the team will fence as individuals at the Junior Olympics from Feb. 13 to Feb 16 in preparation for Ivy North.

Yale will face Princeton and Pennsylvania at Brown in hopes of improving last year's 1-4 Ivy League record. Last year Yale was edged by Princeton (12-15) and Pennsylvania (10-17). But as the Bulldogs have shown, this is a new year.

Report filed by Dominique Fenton '10, Yale Sports Publicity

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