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Columbia returns to form

National Collegiate Fencing

by Joshua Weinreb

All it took was a change of mentality to bring Columbia University-Barnard College’s fencing program back to its former glory as the Lions earned their first national championship since 1993 – a 22-year drought.

“When I was hired, a lot of the alumni were very keen on getting the program back to what they were used to: winning championships,” said Columbia head coach Michael Aufrichtig. “It was evident how much it meant to the fencing alumni and the university to bring our fencing program back. It’s still surreal.”

Aufrichtig  joined the program in June 2011, inheriting a 2-16 fencing team that seemed more like a rudderless ship than an Ivy League athletics staple. By focusing on one-point matches in practice, which simulated the high-pressure, high-stress moments within a fencing match, Aufrichtig and the Lions were able to mentally prepare for such times.  An NCAA title was the result of a four-year plan.

“I’ll be bold and say this was the plan the whole time,” Aufrichtig said. “We knew we had the potential to do it.”

Columbia found itself in second place in the initial days of competition. But the Lions rallied, earning 165 points, nine more than the University of Notre Dame and defending champion Pennsylvania State University. Men’s epee, powered by national titlist Jake Hoyle, and women’s foil led the way with 34 points for Columbia.  The Lions also finished the season with dual Ivy League championships and No. 1 rankings for both men and women.

 “Hopefully this is the start of a new Columbia dynasty,” Aufrichtig  said.