March 25, 2010

Jeff Goldberg, Special to

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - St. John's has not won the NCAA fencing championships since 2001. But the Red Storm took the first step toward a return to glory Thursday, capturing the overall team lead after the first four rounds of the women's championships at Harvard's Gordon Indoor Track.

St. John's dominated the foil competition on Day One with 21 victories in 28 bouts - five more than any other team - helping the Red Storm earn 58 victories overall, including epee and sabre. That was enough for a slight lead over Notre Dame (57) and defending champion Penn State (54).

St. John's freshman Evgeniya Kirpicheva won 12 of 14 bouts to finish second in the individual foil standings, while fellow freshman and Russian native Irina Koroleva finished in a four-way tie for sixth with a 9-5 record.

St. John's finished third in both epee and sabre, capturing 19 victories in sabre and 18 in epee.

Penn State, seeking to become the first repeat fencing champion since their own six consecutive titles from 1995-2000, led the epee competition with 23 victories, with defending champion Anastasia Ferdman winning 11 of 14 bouts and teammate Margherita Guzzi Vincenti going 12-2.

Notre Dame was the only school with 20+ victories in two categories, with 22 victories in sabre and 21 in epee.

After the final three rounds Friday morning, the top four competitors in each of the three classes will advance to the semifinals, with the finals scheduled for 2 p.m. The men's competition begins Saturday with four rounds and concludes Sunday, when the overall team champion will be crowned.

Columbia's Nicole Ross led the foil competition with 13 victories and carried the top indicator score (touches scored minus touches received) among the overall field of 72 competitors with a plus-39.

Northwestern's Dayana Sarkisova matched Kirpicheva with 12 victories, but trailed in indicators 35-17, leaving her in third place. Penn State's Doris Willette, the defending champion in foil, finished fourth with an 11-3 record, matching Ross with a +39.

Harvard's Noam Mills, who lost to Ferdman in the 2009 epee championship bout, was the overall leader Thursday, winning her first 11 bouts before finishing 13-1, along with an indicator of +36.

Notre Dame senior Kelley Hurley (+23) and St. John's freshman Sanne Gars (+18) finished with 11 victories for a share of third place with Ferdman.

Duke sophomore Rebecca Ward, the defending champion in sabre and the bronze medalist for the United States at the 2008 Summer Olympics, overcame an early setback to take the lead after four rounds.

Ward, who dropped her second bout in the first round, won the next 12 five-point bouts to finish with 13-1 record and a +36, giving her a narrow lead over Dagmara Wozniak of St. John's (12 victories, +33) and Notre Dame's Sarah Borrmann (12, +28).

Four competitors tied for the fourth in victories with 11, with Penn State's Caitlin Thompson holding the fourth spot with a +29 indicator. Havard's Caroline Vloka and Eliza Stone of Princeton were tied with a +27, while Margarita Tschomakova of Ohio State held an indicator of +22.

Ward was third, behind Wozniak and Borrmann, after going 4-1 in the five-bout first round. But Ward was perfect in three successive three-bout rounds, finally taking sole possession of the lead in Thursday's fourth and final round.