When Peter Cohen ’14 was in high school, he honed his épée skills with St. John’s University junior Marat Israelian for two years under the same coach. On Friday at Ohio State University, Israelian crushed Cohen’s hopes of reaching the gold-medal match at the NCAA National Championships.
“It started out neck and neck, 4–3, and then he started pulling away — he just edged me out,” Cohen said. He fell 15-4 to Israelian — who went on the win the tournament — and tied for third on his way to making the All-American team.
Cohen’s result was the highlight of Yale’s performance at nationals over the weekend, where the three-person men’s squad finished 11th overall and the two competing women, captain Madeline Oliver ’13 and Tasha Garcia ’11, took 20th and 21st place in their weapons classes, respectively. Nathaniel Botwinick ’11 joined Cohen as an All-American with his sixth-place finish in the foil competition, while Shiv Kachru ’12 finished 21st in the same weapon class.
“We had three guys that performed unbelievably, they put in everything they had,” said head coach Henry Harutunian. “The girls also held themselves up high in an unbelievably tough competition.”
The team’s two departing seniors, Botwinick and Garcia, especially deserved praise for their sustained contribution, Harutunian said, adding that he was proud of both teams’ seasons.
Still, team members acknowledged there was room for improvement at the competition.
“I went in with the right mentality but I had a couple of bad calls and bad matches early on,” said Kachru, who took second place at the March 13 Northeast Regional. “But that’s part of fencing and I wasn’t able to get my mentality back in the rest of my matches.”
Captain Jonathan Holbrook ’12 said the individual format of the competition, where team members do not fence on the same strip and hence cannot cheer on and coach each other, made it difficult for Yale’s team, which fences in a team format during the regular season.
For Garcia, who joined the team as a walk-on in her freshman year, the competition was a grueling conclusion to her college-fencing career.
“It was especially intimidating because unlike our regular team meets, there were no bouts where I felt I had a really good chance of winning,” she said. “I had to put 100 percent of my effort into every touch.”
Looking beyond the tough season the women’s team faced this year, Garcia said she felt her result reflected the positive training environment of Yale’s team, adding that she was excited to see the determination and dedication of the new walk-ons on the team.
Oliver said that despite the commitment of fencers on her team, the lack of recruits meant that the team did not perform at a very high level overall throughout the season.
“Next year, I’m hoping to have some recruits, the new fencers should be more experienced, and hopefully, we can just get into a groove and accomplish something,” she said.
The men’s team meanwhile, made the jump from “a group of underdogs to consistent performers at the top level” this season, said Holbrook. He added his team would be a “force to be reckoned with from day one” next season.
The men’s team lost to Harvard by a single touch in the final match of the Ivy League Championships, and also shared the United States Collegiate Squad Championships this season.