COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A frustrated look on Susannah Scanlan’s face after her third loss Thursday at the NCAA Fencing Championships spoke loudly.
Scanlon, a senior at Princeton, is a three-time All-American. She has helped the Tigers win the Ivy League women’s championship each of those years. They won the school’s first national championship in fencing last year. She won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
But three losses out of 15 women’s epee matches on the first day of the national championships left Scanlon in second place behind Stanford’s Vivian Kong and in her words, annoyed.
That is the perfectionist coming out in Scanlan.“I’m actually pretty frustrated with the three losses. I think I did a good job just sort of ignoring them and moving on,” Scanlan said. “I’m annoyed at those losses.”
Just imagine the motivation that Scanlan will bring to the fencing strips Friday for the fourth and fifth rounds of round-robin matches, plus the semifinals and finals still to come. Remember, this is an athlete who was so determined to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team that she took two years off from college to train and compete internationally. Considered an underdog to even make the team, she made the Olympic squad because she had a top-16 finish at a Grand Prix event in Budapest, Hungary, and emerged from London with an Olympic bronze medal.
“She’s been a really great role model because she worked really hard to make that Olympic team,” said Princeton teammate Katharine Holmes, who is a contender for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team. “She worked really hard on that Olympic team.”
Scanlon, an economics major, returned to Princeton last year and finished runner-up in women’s epee at the 2013 NCAA Fencing Championships. She is an obvious team leader on a women’s squad that won its fifth consecutive Ivy League championship this year.
“I think Susannah is one of the most professional athletes I’ve ever worked with,” said Princeton coach Zoltan Dudas. “How she works in practice and her leadership as a team captain, the daily quality behavior and work ethics.”
Between each of her matches Thursday, that leadership and work ethic was on full display. Scanlan and Holmes worked with each other in a corner so that they could make adjustments as the day went on. Holmes started slowly but ended up in seventh place in the women’s epee standings.
Theirs is a relationship that has been built through fencing, both at Princeton and within US Fencing. They cried together last year, Holmes said, when Princeton clinched the national championship.
“I have a lot of respect for Suzy, both as a fencer and as a person,” Holmes said. “I really like her. She’s one of my best friends.”
And after this spring, Holmes is temporarily leaving school to train for the 2016 Olympics, just as Scanlan did two years ago in preparation for London.
“I watched her from afar make the Olympic team and then really got to know her when she came back to Princeton last January,” Holmes said.
“She’s been really helpful as I’ve started out on the senior [World Cup] circuit. She knows all the fencers, she knows what it’s like to go up there with all the pressure. Not just make an Olympic team, but also trying to make your mark on the world, and kind of set it up to win a medal.”
“I think she has a very good chance of making the Rio team,” Scanlan said.
But first, there is this thing about another NCAA team championship. Princeton stood in first place after Thursday, when Tiger fencers won 60 matches.
“My hopes for the team is repeat. Repeat champions,” Scanlan said. “Individually, obviously, I want to win.”
At most fencing competitions, especially internationally, the goal is to make top eight or top 16. At the NCAA championships, the strategy is different.
“Think about in terms of every victory is a victory for the team because at the end of the day it takes a team to win a national championship,” Holmes said. “You can’t do it on your own.”