Columbia Athletics

GREENWICH VILLAGE, N.Y. -- Going into a tournament featuring seven top ten teams with a squad that includes 16 first-years, is a little like fighting a building fire with a garden hose. Columbia's men and women's fencers put out some fires, but not enough, as each won only one match Saturday.

Facing the likes of Notre Dame, St. John's, Ohio State and Northwestern, the Lions opened their 2011 collegiate campaign with victories over Wayne State (17-10 by the women's team) and Stevens Tech (16-11 by the men) at the NYU Invitational. Both squads also suffered tantalizingy-close 14-13 losses -- the women to St. John's in a near-upset of the 5th-ranked Red Storm, the men to Wayne State, which bussed in all the way from Detroit.

The Columbia men also lost to Notre Dame (ranked 1st), Ohio State (5th) and St. John's (3rd), while the women were beaten by Notre Dame (1st), Northwestern (7th) and Ohio State (10th).

Despite the losses, veteran head coach George Kolombatovich was cheered by his teams' performance.

"I hate to lose," he conceded after the competition, "but I am enthused by much of our fencing, especially that of our first-years. The meet was a chance to get the kinks out, to get rid of the butterflies in the stomach you get in your first college competition."

"I had several concerns about our teams. I'm glad to be rid of them. We fenced with a lot of spirit and drive."

Looking back on six straight hours of fencing, Kolombatovich was able to spotlight several weapon squads.

"I was very impressed with our women's epee squad," he said. "Lydia Kopecky took a leadership role and Neely Brandfield-Harvey made a successful comeback. Three first-years -- Gaby Strass, Camille Gallardo, and Katya English -- showed the great depth we have in the weapon."

Brandfield-Harvey's return was particularly welcome. The junior All-America had not fenced since suffering an injury in an April World Cup -- nine months ago!

The coach also took note of the women's foil team, while noting the absence of first-year Nzingha Prescod, who was competing in a World Cup in Croatia. The presence of the nation's second-ranked senior women's foil fencer undoubtedly would have altered a few team results.

On the men's side, Kolombatovich had praise for four other first-years. Foilists Alex Pensler and Bo Charles "had good showings," the coach noted, "and both Mel Rodriguez in sabre and Magnus Ferguson in epee had outstanding results." Some of the men's results could have been better if nationally-ranked senior men's epeeist Alen Hadzic, yet another first-year, had been available.

Columbia attacks another "conflagration" tomorrow, Sunday, January 23, when it journeys to Queens for the St. John's Super Cup, featuring an even stronger field than at NYU.

The Lions will meet Notre Dame, St. John's and Ohio State again, plus Penn State and Harvard. The Nittany Lions are ranked fourth (men) and second (women), while the coaches poll placed the Crimson second (men) and third (women).

Columbia faces the host Red Storm at 10 a.m., followed by Harvard, 11:15, and Ohio State, 12:30. Following a lunch break, the Lions meet Penn State at 2:15 and Notre Dame at 3:30.