With the absence of junior phenom Caitlin Rich, a new regime has taken over Princeton women's fencing. Now dominated by a group of freshmen and sophomores, the Tigers rebounded from their heartbreaking loss to Columbia Jan. 31 with a convincing pair of 26-6 victories over Cornell and James Madison Saturday.
Without the outstanding performances of Rich to overshadow them, the results of a solid group of freshman and sophomores stood out in Princeton's matches. Four fencers – all freshmen and sophomores – went undefeated against both the Big Red and the Dukes.
The victory over Cornell was significant for two reasons. First, it was a necessary step for the women towards their goal of winning the Ivy League Championship. But against Cornell, the Tigers had little doubt that they would triumph.
"We were expecting to do really well," sophomore captain Nicole Polanichka said. "We are a much more experienced team than Cornell."
Red Rover, Red Rover
The win was also significant because of a coaching staff connection to the fencing program at Cornell. Before his nine-year tenure at Princeton, Tiger head coach Michel Sebastiani led the Big Red fencers. Also, Cornell head coach Albert Peters was once an assistant at Princeton.
The victory over Cornell was one of the Tigers' strongest performances this season. Among the foils, sophomore Jennifer Johns and freshman Lisa Leslie went undefeated, capturing four victories apiece, while sophomore Orsolya Szotory-Grove was 3-0. Freshman epee Matilde Acerra also went 4-0.
"We were very pleased with the results," Polanichka said. "Both weapons (epee and foil) did really well. The losses were equally spread across (the swords)."
The results were just as convincing against James Madison. Both Leslie and Szotory-Grove again went unbeaten in foil, while freshman epees Kristina Hurme and Acerra posted identical 4-0 marks to lead Princeton.
"We beat them pretty badly," Polanichka said.
Leader of the pack
This solid group of underclassmen has also amassed an impressive overall record in bouts this season. Hurme leads the group (35-6) followed closely by Acerra (34-10) and Leslie (37-11).
With such a strong group leading the way, the Tigers are still in the hunt for the Ivy title. Princeton did lose to Columbia, but the Lions have also dropped an Ivy contest, losing to Yale.
Should the Tigers pull off an upset of the Elis, the Tigers would pull into a first-place tie in the Ivies with Columbia and Yale. Princeton, however, will be hard-pressed to defeat Yale, which is led by sophomore epee Whitney Anderson. At last year's NCAA Championships, Anderson finished third, four spots ahead of Princeton's Rich.
"Yale has a really strong team and we're going to to have to really pull together if we are to beat them," Polanichka said.
The Princeton women will be reunited with the men's team, which did not compete this weekend, to face Yale, Harvard and Duke at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet Feb. 21 in Jadwin Gym.