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Columbia High School Boys and Girls Fencers Advance to Final Four

This article was submitted by a team parent.

The Columbia High School boys’ and girls’ fencing teams advanced to the semifinals of their respective team tournaments.

Despite having bested the Montclair Mounties just a few weeks ago, the Columbia girls’ fencing team knew nothing could be taken for granted during the playoffs. You could tell by the practically palpable excitement in the air at the New Jersey Fencing Alliance the night of Feb. 9 that the Cougar girls would do no such thing.

Saber started out with a bang, as Blessing Olaode, who had been edged out for the gold medal at the District 5 tournament by Montclair’s A-strip, DeAna Oliver, got a bit of payback. She dominated her bout, notching a 5-1 win. B-strip Celia Accardi kept things rolling with a solid 5-3 win over Uma Schupfer. Not to be left behind by her squad mates, Natalie Martinez put in an impressive performance, storming back from a 1-4 deficit to win her bout 5-4, completing the saber sweep.

With Sam Viqueira back from a gold-medal performance in a team event at the 2015 Junior Panamerican Championships in Toronto just the day before, the foil squad was at full strength. The toils of travel did not appear to faze Sam, as she dispatched her opponent with a quick 5-0 win. Her sister Marissa and Camille Pham prevailed as well, dropping only one touch in the foil sweep, which left the score a decidedly lopsided 6-0.

Columbia’s momentum slowed a bit in the epee round, as Montclair managed to score two wins. But C-strip Brigid Lynch’s 5-4 victory put things back on track for the Cougars, helping them finish round one with a 7-2 score.

Nina Kambili (l.) scores the winning touch to clinch the meet against Montclair (credit Ingrid Accardi)
Nina Kambili (l.) scores the winning touch to clinch the meet against Montclair (credit Ingrid Accardi)

The second round started with wins by Martinez and Olaode and a repeat sweep by foil. An overtime 5-4 win by Lynch in epee put the cougars on the brink of clinching, with the score at 13-4. A-strip Nina Kambili engaged in a tense bout against Montclair’s Zahra Morgan, and after 3 minutes of regulation time, the score stood tied at 2-2. Priority went to Kambili in overtime, meaning it was up to her opponent to score a touch within the allotted minute to win the bout. Kambili was having none of that, landing a touch to secure the win, clinch the meet, and help advance the Cougar girls to the Final Four.

Wins by Abby Rothman (5-1) in saber, Hanae Garrison (5-0) in foil, and Abby Schneider (5-0) and Abby Merelman (5-0) in epee brought the final score to 18-9. The girls will face Bernards High School the week of Feb. 16.

The boys’ meet the following night played out quite a bit differently. The Columbia boy’s fencing team has come to realize that as reigning New Jersey state champions, they can expect spirited intensity from opposing teams. They also know that prior dual-meet results are no indicator of the outcome at hand. So when facing Newark Academy in the quarterfinals on Feb. 10 at New Jersey Fencing Alliance, they knew yet another challenge was imminent.

First-round saber saw both Gordon Rutledge and Matt Rothenberg record come-from-behind 5-3 wins. Newark Academy’s stellar foil team then registered a sweep. Epeeists Bryn Hammarberg and Marcus Jamison countered with victories against their opponents. Columbia trailed 4-5 going into the second round.

After the first two saber bouts of round two were dropped, Rutledge righted the ship somewhat with a resounding 5-0 win against their C-strip. The results were similar in foil, with Tran Soles-Torres registering the first foil win of the day (5-2). Sam Gomberg started the epee round with yet another 5-4 overtime win against their A-Strip. Hammarberg then notched his own resounding 5-0 follow-up. Still Columbia trailed 8-10 going into the final round.

Tran Soles-Torres (l.) squares off against a Newark Academy opponent (credit Eric Hammarberg)
Tran Soles-Torres (l.) squares off against a Newark Academy opponent (credit Eric Hammarberg)

Some say champions perform best under pressure. Well Columbia’s C-strip saber, Matt Rothenberg, certainly lived up to that, as he came through with a commanding 5-2 victory against Newark Academy’s A-strip to start the third round. Rutledge and Harrison Woods then completed the saber sweep, to give Columbia an 11-10 score advantage. Newark Academy’s George Haglund and Shane Iverson once again held sway in foil and flipped the score back to 11-12. But Kiichi Sakai responded valiantly to knot the score heading into the final round of epee.

Once again Marcus Jamison faced an A-strip opponent in a must-win situation. Once again he rose to the occasion, with a confident 5-3 triumph. Enter “Strictly Business” Hammarberg with yet another clinching opportunity. After he stormed to a 4-2 lead, Newark Academy’s wily Jason Suh countered with two clutch touches of his own to tie the score with 12 seconds left. Both fencers opted for overtime. Despite having priority, Hammarberg pressed and struck in preparation of the counter for the clinching 5-4 win. Freshman Adam Dubowy then provided the icing with a 5-3 victory to bring the final meet score to 15-12. Next up, Watchung Hills in the semifinals on the 19th.

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