During the final days of spring break, four Yale fencers traveled to San Antonio, Texas, to earn a 10th-place finish for the Bulldogs at the NCAA National Championship.
Representing the men’s team at the March 21–24 round-robin tournament — co-hosted by the University of the Incarnate Word and San Antonio Sports at the Freeman Coliseum — Hugh O’Cinneide ’15 earned 11th place in the saber competition and Peter Cohen ’14 finished 17th in the epee competition. For the women’s team, sabreur Madeline Oliver ’13 finished in 10th place in her weapon class while Lauren Miller ’15 claimed 13th place in the foil competition. The Bulldogs contended in a field of 144 of the nation’s top fencers.
The men competed during the first two days of the four-day championship. O’Cinneide won 12 of his bouts, while Cohen won 10. Their combined score of 22 overall points put Yale in 11th place nationally by the end of the men’s competition.
“The tournament has validated a lot of work I’ve been putting in at practice,” O’Cinneide said. “Everything I’ve spent time on came into play, and I had some convincing wins against some very tough opponents.”
Cohen added that with such tight competition, it is really anyone’s tournament.
“I unfortunately had a slow start in my first round and spent the rest of the tournament fighting back against that deficit, but in every bout you have to come out strong, and that is something that I take away from NCAAs each year,” he said.
During their final two days in San Antonio, the women managed to bump Yale up to 10th place overall. Oliver notched 12 points, while Miller scored 11 points. With the addition of their total score, Yale finished with 45 points.
To qualify for the tournament, candidates were judged by the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Fencing Committee based on both individual performances during the season and the results from the NCAA Northeast Regional, which took place on March 10 at St. John’s Carnesecca Arena and Taffner Field House in Queens, N.Y.
The men’s and women’s teams each qualified 10 fencers for the Northeast Regional. O’Cinneide finished in seventh place for saber competition, earning him the seventh qualifying spot for the national championship. Cohen finished fifth in epee, landing the fifth qualifier.
“Last year, my regionals performance was pretty poor, not making it out of the second round by one win,” O’Cinneide said. “I remembered my mistakes from last year and kept my head in the second and the final pools. I brought that composure to nationals, and it paid off.”
Oliver led the women with a seventh-place finish in saber competition and the seventh qualifier. Miller fought her way to ninth place and also earned the seventh qualifying spot thanks to her performance this season.
For three of the four Bulldogs who earned a berth in this year’s national championship, this was not the first opportunity for an NCAA run.
Cohen competed in the championship as a freshman and tied for third in epee. Oliver competed in her freshman and sophomore years, finishing in 23rd and 20th respectively, and Miller earned seventh place as a freshman last year.
“I think returning with previous experience definitely takes some of the initial pressure off because it’s a format and experience that I have become comfortable with,” Cohen said. “But at this high of a level, everyone has had similar experiences, and much of the field is returning from previous years.”
This was the first time that O’Cinneide secured a spot in the NCAA National Championship.
“Because I’ve been starting consistently the entire year, I’ve developed a mental game that I’ve always lacked,” O’Cinneide said. “Tough opponents or high pressure don’t faze me as much as they have in previous years.”
As the tournament came to a close on Sunday, Princeton finished on top with its first NCAA Championship.