Fencing: Men upend No. 1 Buckeyes in comeback thriller
Whatever the sport, nobody feels good when down 4-0 to the No. 1 team in the nation. After two of its stars, senior epeeists Jonathan Yergler and Ed Kelley, each lost two of three bouts to members of the top-ranked Ohio State squad, the men’s fencing team was not in a good place.
“We were getting crushed,” Yergler said.
Having already lost a tough 14-13 match against No. 3 Notre Dame, the No. 4 Tigers found themselves in the rare position of looking outmatched. The men’s and women’s teams are used to being the dominant powers in almost any arena — both went undefeated in the Ivy League last year and finished second in the NCAA. The women came into the Northwestern Duals undefeated, while the men had lost only once, to No. 2 Penn State at the Vassar Duals in December.
“Honestly, we do believe we can beat any team in the country,” Yergler said. He and his team had no doubt of that even after losing to the Fighting Irish, but they still had to prove it to the rest of the world.
Sophomore epeeist Luke Politi took care of that. Facing his Buckeye opponent, who finished in a tie at last year’s NCAA championship, Politi dug in after losing his first bout and started the Tigers’ turnaround. He won his final two bouts, salvaging what had been a subpar round for the epeeists.
“Luke really stepped it up and took control in the second bout,” Yergler said. “That got momentum going.”
Though Ohio State won the epee 5-4, Politi’s victories ended up making all the difference. The Tigers edged the Buckeyes 5-4 in both the saber and the foil, finishing the day one point ahead of the best team in the nation.
Politi’s bouts were decisive, but much of the credit for the upset goes to freshman foilist Michael Dudey, the only member of the men’s squad to win all three of his bouts against Buckeye fencers. Although the Buckeyes got out to an early lead, Dudey and his teammates succeeded in making Ohio State uncomfortable and capitalizing on its errors.
Yergler felt that his team was invigorated by the loss to Notre Dame.
“That loss early sort of snapped us awake, made us buckle down and take care of business for the next few rounds,” he said. “I think it was really good for the team.”
The Tigers have not had many wake-up calls this season, and they rarely look as though they need them. The narrow loss to Notre Dame and equally narrow upset of Ohio State were the only close matches of the weekend for the men. The only other team to win more than nine bouts against the Tigers was No. 10 Stanford, which fell to Princeton 16-11. After Saturday’s drama, the Tigers mopped the floor with their opponents on Sunday, defeating them by a combined score of 116-19.
Given their tendency to win big, the Tigers see close matches, even the loss, as a blessing. Yergler described his team as “mildly humbled,” despite its huge win, by the weekend’s ups and downs. With little to humble them in the Ivy League, playing the best teams in the country keeps the fencers from losing focus, and their performance on Saturday proved that that focus could make all the difference at the NCAA tournament in March.
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.