COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The times in fencing are changing.

Ohio State coach Vladimir Nazlymov, a three-time Olympic medalist with Russia who is in his 15th year with the Buckeyes, pondered for a moment Wednesday at French Field House as he considered the balance and depth of this year’s field at the NCAA Fencing Championships.

“It’s good. Today, it’s a lot of change,” he said. “Last 10 years we fight mostly four teams. Penn State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, St. John’s. … Now Princeton, Columbia.”

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And he rattled off several other teams that are in the hunt for a national title.

Princeton won its first national championship last year, marking the first time in six years that it hadn’t been won by Penn State, Notre Dame or Ohio State. The Tigers stopped by the White House last week to celebrate their achievement in a formal ceremony with President Barack Obama.

Princeton returns with a maximum 12 qualifiers (two in each of six weapon disciplines), but two other schools also have 12 qualifiers:

Host Ohio State and Penn State. Harvard, the 2006 national champ, and St. John’s, runner-up in 2002, '07 and '10, and national champ in 2001, each has 11 qualifiers. Columbia has 10.

The championships begin Thursday at French Field House with the first three rounds of action in women’s foil, epee and sabre. Women’s semifinals and finals will be held Friday, and men’s semifinals and finals Sunday at St. John Arena. Men’s prelims begin Saturday at French Field House.

Semifinalists will be determined by win-loss record in five rounds of round-robin matches. The top four winners in five-touch bouts advance to the semifinals.

The field of 144 fencers includes a number of 2012 Olympians, including Notre Dame’s Gerek Meinhardt in men’s foil and Lee Kiefer in women’s foil. Earlier this year Meinhardt became the first men’s foil fencer in U.S. history to achieve a No. 1 world ranking.

Susannah Scanlan of Princeton, a 2012 Olympian, will compete in the strong women’s epee field. She is attempting to be the first four-time All-American in Princeton history.

Alexander Massialas of Stanford, a sophomore who won his first national title last year, will be in men’s foil. He is a 2012 Olympian and the son of three-time Olympian Greg Massialas.

Kiefer, who finished fifth at the London 2012 Olympic Games and third at the 2011 World Championships, will face her sister, Alexandra Kiefer of Harvard, in Thursday’s early rounds. Lee Kiefer’s only loss in 15 round-robin matches at the 2013 national championships was to Alexandra.

With such a stacked field, some of the early-round matches in both the women’s and men’s tournament may provide as much excitement as the championship-round matches.

“Oh, absolutely. I don’t think my heart is strong enough,” Penn State coach Wes Glon said jokingly as the teams checked in for practice Wednesday.

The Nittany Lions finished third last year to Princeton and Ohio State and are hoping to win their 13th national championship. Among the Penn State squad members are team captain Nicole Glon, who is the daughter of Wes Glon and a second-place finisher in women‘s sabre at the Mid-Atlantic/Southern Regional, and Clarisse Luminet, who finished third in women‘s foil.

While Notre Dame qualified 10 for the national championships, it is a solid 10. Meinhardt, the 2010 national champ in men’s foil; Lee Kiefer, women’s foil, and Nicole Arnell, women’s epee, all won regional titles,

“We’ve been training hard all season. I think we definitely have a good opportunity to get a bunch of individual titles,” women’s team captain Ashley Severson, who placed third in women’s epee at the Midwest regional, said.. “I think everyone’s really excited and really pumped up. We’re looking forward to competing.”

In addition to Alexandra Kiefer, Harvard’s lineup includes regional champions Isabelle DiTella in women’s epee and Adrienne Jarocki in women’s sabre.