The Yale men’s and women’s fencing teams darted to their best result since 2013 on March 24, sending eight fencers to the national championships and earning a 12th-place finish.
Led by second-team All-American and captain Katherine Miller ’17, five Yale women qualified for the NCAA tournament after a dominant team performance on friendly soil at the Northeast regionals. Three Eli men joined the women in Indianapolis, including two freshmen, while also earning a dramatic victory over Harvard in the Ivy League round-robins.
“Everyone put the work in and focused on what they personally needed to succeed, as we transitioned to the largely individual regional and subsequently NCAA championships,” saber fencer Joey Lew ’17 said. “It was wonderful to have so many teammates [at the NCAA tournament] with me, and I’m really proud of how far Yale fencing has come in my four years here. The women’s team breaking top 10 is phenomenal, but I really feel that both women’s and men’s are on the up and that we can expect great things from the future of Yale fencing.”
The No. 10 Yale women’s team limped through the Ivy League championship, a series of results that belied their subsequent successes. The Bulldogs slumped to a 21–6 defeat to then-No. 1 Princeton to open the tournament, before suffering a heartbreaking 14–13 loss against Cornell.
After annihilating Brown by a 21–6 scoreline to close out the first day of fencing, the Elis saw their momentum halted in a trio of losses to No. 6 Penn, No. 1 Columbia and No. 7 Harvard.
In the Northeast regionals a month later at Yale, the Elis turned in a virtuosic performance with six fencers reaching the final pool of 12 in their respective events.
Miller earned a third-place finish out of 45 epeeists, while fellow Yale fencers took 10th, 11th and 13th. In the saber, Lillie Lainoff ’18 and Lew signed to their home fans with 11th- and 15th-place finishes, respectively. In foil, Anna Zhou ’20 marked her first regionals with a seventh-place finish, highlighting a Bulldog contingent that also earned 11th and 13th.
Five of those fencers — Lainoff, Lew, Miller, Zhou and foilist Sarah Pak ’19 — went to Notre Dame to compete in NCAA tournament. Miller led the way, sparring to an eighth-place finish that earned her a second-team All-American nod, the first Yale fencer to receive one since 2012. Lew and Lainoff placed 13th and 24th in saber, respectively, while foilists Pak and Zhou ended up right next to each other in 18th and 19th place. The women’s final No. 10 national ranking marks the first time they have been ranked since 2002.
“I can’t imagine a better way to have ended my Yale career,” Miller said. “The success of our season, culminating in that top-10 national ranking, is proof of all the hard work we’ve put in this season. In my time on the team, Yale fencing has definitely had an upward trajectory, with a lot of impressive individual performances, and this year, everything sort of came together and we had a strong and balanced team. We’ve had really good incoming classes the past few years, which gives us a great foundation, and when you combine that with our coaches, who have really pushed us this year especially, you get our results.”
The Bulldog men earned a fourth-place finish at the Ivy League round-robins, their best in a long time. The Elis bounced back from an opening 15–12 defeat against No. 5 Princeton to demolish Brown 20–7, highlighted by a pair of 7–2 displays from the saber and epee squads.
After an 18–9 loss to No. 4 Penn to open the second day, Yale came within a whisker of knocking off two-time defending national champions Columbia, falling 14–13. Buoyed by their competitive performance, the Bulldogs concluded the day by beating the Crimson 15–12.
The epee squad went 7–2 to compensate for matching 5–4 reverses in the other two disciplines. Captain and saberist Reed Srere ’17 finished third in the saber, earning first-team All-Ivy accolades, while fellow saber fencer Walter Musgrave ’19 ended up fourth. The other top-five Yale finisher on the day was foilist Aiden Ahn ’20, who snagged the fifth spot.
The Eli performance at the Northeast regionals was highlighted by a dynamic showing from underclassmen. Of the six Bulldog fencers who finished in the top two of their respective disciplines, only Srere is not a freshman or sophomore. Musgrave had the best Yale finish, earning seventh in the saber, while Ahn and epeeist Isaac Shelanski ’20 both also qualified for nationals.
In Indiana, Shelanski provided the best male performance with an 18th-place finish in epee. Musgrave improved his result from last year with a 19th-place mark, while Ahn ended his maiden campaign with a 21st-place result in foil.
When the men’s and women’s scores were combined, the Elis ended the national championships in 12th place out of 24 teams, a significant improvement from last year’s 17th. The host Fighting Irish lifted the championship.
“It was certainly the best season we’ve had as a team in my four years here,” Srere said. “Not only did we have a better record, but we also placed higher at Ivy League championships, which is really the one team tournament that we’re all training for. I’m beyond proud of how we closed out the season, both with our win over Harvard and our success at regionals.”
Yale head coach Harry Harutunian helped choreograph the swordplay scenes in the classic 1987 film “The Princess Bride.”