Guest Column – NCAA Women's Epee Preview, by Hannah Safford (Princeton '13)


CF366 Guest Columns – NCAA Capsule Previews
• Women's Foil – Dayana Sarkisova (Northwestern '13)  |  • Women's Epee – Hannah Safford (Princeton '13)
Women's Sabre – Caroline Vloka (Harvard '12)  |  • Men's Foil – TBA
• Men's Epee – Jonathan Yergler (Princeton '13)  |  Men's Sabre – Aleks Ochocki (Penn State '12)


Hannah Safford (pictured at right) represented Princeton in women’s epée at the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Fencing Championships and was an NCAA alternate on Princeton’s championship-winning team in 2013. Now a graduate student in engineering and public policy, Safford remains involved in the collegiate fencing circuit as a team manager for Princeton.

Note – additional basic bio. info. on all 24 entrants, provided by CF360, may be added to this page later in the week.

2014 NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS – Women's Epee (capsule preview)

By Hannah Safford (Princeton ’13)

The 2013 NCAA Fencing Championships marked the end of collegiate fencing for three former NCAA women’s epée champions: Notre Dame’s Courtney Hurley (in ’11 and ’13), Ohio State’s Katarzyna Dabrowa (’12), and Penn State’s Marg Guzzi (’10). The graduation of these three talented fencers—particularly the graduation of four-time NCAA medalists Hurley and Guzzi—leaves the women’s epée field wider open than it has been in any year in recent history. In fact, 2014 is the first year since 2009 that the field has not included at least one former NCAA champion.

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That’s not to say that this year’s field is weak. Nine schools qualified two fencers each, meaning that 18 fencers will have the small but significant advantage of grinding through the giant round-robin with a teammate for support, coaching advice, and emergency Clif bars. Of these nine schools, seven are sending two fencers who both seem strong enough to have a realistic shot at All-America honors (awarded to those finishing in the top 12). These are (listed below):

Princeton's Susannah Scanlan (left) – photo by Pete LaFleur
(College Fencing 360); all rights reserved

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(1) – Princeton: Susannah Scanlan (‘12 Olympic team bronze medalist; ’13 NCAA runner-up) is gunning hard to close out her long collegiate fencing career with an individual title at Ohio State (originally class of ’12, Scanlan took two years off of school to train for the London Olympics). Scanlan comes into the tournament with an enormous amount of experience but also the enormous amount of pressure and expectation that comes with it. The first few bouts of the tournament will reveal which of these countervailing forces dictates the rest of them: a strong start for Scanlan could put her on a roll to win it all, but early losses may prove especially difficult for her to recover from. Scanlan will receive support and competition in equal measures from teammate Katharine Holmes (’12 NCAA bronze medalist). Holmes, coming off of a dominant performance at the Mid-Atlantic Regional, has the focus and drive required for success in the round-robin; expect her to at least make the final four.

Princeton's Kat Holmes (right) – photo by Pete LaFleur
(College Fencing 360); all rights reserved

(2) – Stanford: Francesca Bassa finished 8th, 5th and 7th, respectively, at her three previous NCAAs. A senior, Bassa now has the experience and familiarity with the collegiate women’s epée field needed to finally crack the top four. Bassa’s tendency to fence to one-touch and overtime decisions can make her results unpredictable, but a little bit of luck should give her a good shot at turning in her best NCAA finish to date. Bassa will certainly benefit from fencing alongside teammate Vivian Kong (’13 NCAA semifinalist), a cheerful sophomore from Hong Kong who boasts a 61-7 match record for the season, recently placed 12th at the Senior World Cup in St. Maur, France, and is also a strong contender for the podium.

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Stanford's Vivan Kong (left) – photo by Pete LaFleur
(College Fencing 360); all rights reserved

(3) – Notre Dame: The consistently strong performances of juniors Nicole Ameli and Ashley Severson have at times been overshadowed by the performances of former teammates Hurley and Ewa Nelip (class of ’13). Ameli and Severson earned All-America honors as freshmen in 2012 (with Hurley and Nelip both taking time off to pursue hopes for an Olympic bid). Ameli and Severson easily improved on their performances this year as they have returned to the NCAAs following Hurley and Nelip’s graduation. Good friends as well as teammates, Ameli and Severson make up the pair that should benefit most from competing alongside one another.

(4) – Harvard: Harvard’s Isabel DiTella is arguably the most formidable first-time participant in this year’s field. DiTella, who entered Harvard as a sophomore and fences internationally for Argentina, won a bronze medal at the Junior World Championships and finished 14th at the Senior World Championships in 2013. Though DiTella underperformed a bit at her first Ivy League Championships earlier this year (finishing 5th), she came roaring back to win the Northeast Regional and prove that she has the ability to succeed in the NCAA’s five-touch, round-robin format. DiTella will be joined by junior Emma Väggo, who qualified as an alternate but will be competing instead of freshman Nina van Loon. Väggo returns for her third consecutive NCAAs after finishing 14th in both 2012 and ’13.

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Northwestern's Dina Bazarbayeva (right) 
– photo by Pete LaFleur
(College Fencing 360); all rights reserved

(5) – Northwestern: Dina Bazarbayeva, the lone senior on Northwestern’s roster, and Courtney Dumas, a junior, are both making their third appearances at NCAAs after posting middle-of-the-pack finishes in the past. With Bazarbayeva’s long, low-target game contrasting sharply with Dumas’ reliance on powerful bladework and hand touches, the two are polar opposites in terms of fencing style—a fact that could either hurt them (by making it more challenging for each to offer useful advice to the other) or help them (by forcing opponents to find unique solutions to each) when competing together.

(6) Ohio State: It will be unusual to see senior Caroline Piasecka fencing in her fourth NCAAs alongside freshman Eugenia Falqui instead of longtime teammate Dabrowa. Piasecka, a solid fencer who has been hampered by injuries in the past, looks to finally crack the top-8 after finishing 9th, 15th, and 15th at her previous appearances. Falqui, who won a bronze medal with the Italian team at the 2013 Junior World Championships, is a valuable addition to Ohio State’s roster, but she is not yet a replacement for the former NCAA champion Dabrowa.

(7) Penn State: Penn State ranks seventh on this list, not for lack of ability, but rather for lack of experience. After graduating standout Marg Guzzi, Penn State has filled their women’s epée void with a pair of talented and hyphenated Jessica’s: freshman Jessie Gottesman-Radanovich and sophomore Jess O’Neill-Lyublinsky will both be making inaugural NCAA appearances. The pair has fenced well in dual meets this season and will contend this year, but they likely will become greater threats as they accumulate more NCAA tournament experience in the future.

Notable participants among the rest of the field include St. John’s senior Alina Ferdman, a lefty whose dangerously fast, aggressive style has helped her finish as high as sixth in her three previous NCAA appearances, and Cornell freshman Victoria Wines, whose second-place finish at the Northeastern Regionals was especially impressive for a fencer representing a school not traditionally considered a fencing powerhouse.

(editor’s note – Ferdman’s older sister Nastia won the 2009 NCAA epee title while fencing for Penn State and currently is an assistant coach at Temple).

The strongest contenders for the podium in women’s epée are Princeton’s Susannah Scanlan and Katharine Holmes and Stanford’s Francesca Bassa and Vivian Kong, with Harvard’s Isabel DiTella also a potential threat. Notre Dame’s Nicole Ameli and Ashley Severson will combine to put up a bunch of wins for the Irish, and Harvard’s Isabel DiTella could have a great weekend and threaten for a top spot. But at the end of the day, it’s epée—French for “anything can happen.”

– HS