Editor’s note: This article was submitted by team parents.
The Columbia girls fencing team faced one of their more formidable opponents as they traveled to meet the Livingston Lancers on Wednesday, January 28. The meet started off a bit rockier than usual, as the cougar saber squad clashed with Livingston’s saber lineup of sisters Gabby and Liz Tartakovsky and Jessica Rockford, the trio that won gold at January’s Santelli Tournament. Only A-strip fencer Blessing Olaode managed a win in a nail-biter 5-4 bout.
The scales tipped solidly in the cougars’ favor during the foil bouts, with sisters Sam and Marissa Viqueira easily downing their opponents and Camille Pham notching a win as well. It was clear that the meet would likely be determined by the performance of the epee squad, and they did not disappoint, with wins by Abigail Merelman (3-2) and Brigid Lynch (5-2) giving Columbia a reassuring 6-3 lead after the first round.
The second round resulted in a saber sweep by Livingston, but the lancers’ satisfaction was short-lived, as the cougars stormed back with a sweep of their own in foil. An easy win by A-strip epeeist Nina Kambili (5-1) combined with intense bouts for Merelman and Lynch (both 5-4) gave the cougars a 12-6 advantage going into the third round.
Although victory was seemingly around the corner for the cougars, the pressure of the meet did not abate, as evidenced by the fierce clash between Rockford and Olaode. Team captain Olaode prevailed, with a high-intensity 5-4 win. A quick 5-1 victory by Sam Viqueira clinched the meet for the CHS girls. Wins by subs Abby Schneider and Katie Hilton brought the final score to 16-11.
On the other side of the gym, Livingston’s relatively inexperienced boy’s varsity fencing team proved no match for visiting Columbia. Despite the absence of dual meet B-strip regular Harrison Woods, the starting lineup of Gordon Rutledge, Jake Thomas, and Matt Rothenberg in saber; Tran Soles-Torres, Kiichi Sakai, and Jack Goldberg in foil; and Bryn Hammarberg, Sam Gomberg, and Marcus Jamison in epee fenced almost flawlessly. Foil captain Jack Goldberg got his second clinch of the season with a decisive 5-0 victory to seal the 14-1 win. The boy’s record now improves to 9-0.
One of the strengths of Columbia’s program is their ability to acclimate their underclassmen to the challenges of the high school 5-touch format. Of particular note are victories like freshman epeeist Josh Abdill’s rally from a 2-4 deficit to defeat his opponent 5-4. Adam Dubowy, another freshman epee novice, triumphed in a hard-fought 5-4 bout. Sophomores Marshall Henderson and Luke Moramarco won their saber and foil bouts, respectively, with 5-2 scores. Senior epee captain Simon Pettigrew added to Columbia’s win column with a 5-3 victory in the third round. The final score was 19-8.
The following evening saw Columbia back home at NJFA, as they faced the boys of Oratory Prep. Despite being somewhat preoccupied with midterms, the team focused on the job at hand to clinch a victory at the 14-3 mark. The starting lineup was the same as the previous night against Livingston except that Simon Pettigrew subbed for the absent Bryn Hammarberg.
Oratory’s fencing program is only two years old, but their fencers displayed a game intensity despite their inexperience. Still, Columbia came out strong with saber and foil sweeps to notch an 8-1 first-round bout advantage. Oratory then rebounded with two saber wins, but Gordon Rutledge ended that rally with a commanding 5-1 performance. The foil squad again swept, giving the epee squad a chance for the clinch. Pettigrew won his second-round opener against Oratory’s A-strip with another 5-4 decision. All eyes were on Marcus Jamison, who had a chance to redeem his first-round stumble. A see-saw battle ensued, with Jamison able to tie the bout at 4-4 as time ran out. In overtime without priority, Jamison lit the necessary one light with 7 seconds left to secure the victory for Columbia.
Three sophomore subs added wins: Jared Benskins 5-2 in saber, and Sebastian Clarke and Filip Saulean in foil 5-1 and 5-2, respectively. The final score was 17-10.
Meanwhile, the girls team faced an equally inexperienced Kent Place squad. Taking a slightly different approach from the boys, they chose to rest foil standouts Sam and Marissa Viqueira. Nevertheless, the starting nine of Blessing Olaode, Celia Accardi, and Natalie Martinez in saber; Camille Pham, Hanae Garrison, and Luz Aguba in foil; and Nina Kambili, Abby Merelman, and Brigid Lynch in epee swept to a 9-0 first round lead.
Second-round sophomore saber subs Gabby Tazewell and Laura Spanier both notched impressive 5-1 victories. In epee, freshman sub Noelle Jamison won 5-1 and sophomore Jennifer Crimaldi won 5-2. The meet score stood at 13-5 going into the third round.
In an interesting move, acting coach Sam Viqueira decided to give the younger saber fencers a chance for the clinch. Three heartbreaking defeats and the score stood at 13-8. Re-enter foilist Hanae Garrison, who secured the clinch with a dramatic 5-4 win. Freshman Toyibat Osho registered her first varsity win in foil with a 5-0 exclamation point, while freshmen epeeists Ana Cowie and Isabella Wendt brought the final score to 17-10. Much more important than the victory was the chance for the younger fencers to experience the paradox of the sport: That the success of the team depends on forgetting about the team and focusing on the opponent in front of you.