Fencers claim SJU’s 2nd NCAA crown SJU

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Less than 24 hours after helping lead the St. John’s fencing team to the NCAA championship, topping six-time defending champs Penn State, sophomore Ivan Lee was back on campus, heading to a 7 a.m. class. The reality of the accomplishment still hadn’t hit him.

Lee said he didn’t even know it was only St. John’s second national championship — the first since the men’s soccer team won the title in 1996. Apparently, Lee wasn’t the only one. There were no congratulatory banners, no notice at all. It was just an ordinary Monday on the Jamaica campus. Such is a life for a St. John’s fencer.

“All school year we’ve won competitions left and right and we’ll come back to school and people just don’t give you the recognition,” Lee said. “It’s a sport where you feel unappreciated a lot.”

During the four-day competition at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside the Red Storm were very appreciated. According to St. John’s head coach Yury Gelman, the college fencing world had become disinterested with Penn State’s dominance.

“Penn State won it for six years in a row and people just got tired of it,” he said. “All the other schools began to cheer for us.”

The Red Storm opened up a huge 14-point lead after the completion of the men’s competition Friday. Lee led the way, winning the gold medal in the sabre by defeating senior and close friend Keeth Smart.

“I’m used to fencing Keeth for the past eight years,” Lee said. “This is the third time we met in a gold medal bout this year. We both won once. It’s a bittersweet win. I’m glad Keeth took it well.”

Smart, a two-time NCAA champion in the event and a member of last year’s United States Olympic team, won the silver medal.

Alex Roytblat finished fourth in the men’s epee and sophomore Joe Fisher took fourth in the men’s foil.

St. John’s saw its lead shrink to eight points after Saturday’s third round when the women’s competition began.

Gelman said an injury to Irina Khouade, the Red Storm’s top women’s foiler, who tore her ACL before the tournament, made him pessimistic heading into the NCAAs.

“With her we were a much stronger team,” he said. “She’s our best fencer.”

On Sunday, the women stepped up as sophomore Emese Takacs defeated Arlene Stevens to win the gold medal in the women’s epee. Junior Marisa Mustilli, who finished fourth in the qualifying rounds, captured the silver medal in the sabre, while sophomore Liz Thottham stepped up in Khouade’s absence and finished in 11th place in the women’s foil.

“It was nerve-wracking [to sit and wait], but we had faith in the girls who made it,” Lee said. “It’s like Joe Torre who has faith in the person on the mound regardless of their performance in the last game.”

One of the keys for the Red Storm was qualifying 12 fencers. Last year, St. John’s sent 11 fencers to the NCAA championships and finished in second place behind Penn State, which qualified 12 fencers. This year, the Red Storm sent 12 fencers while Penn State had just 11.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment because we work half the time [Penn State] does because Yury is a part-time coach,” Lee said. “We only practice with him four hours a week. The rest of the training we do on our own.”

Tsai garnered CUNY honors

Pei Chi Tsai, a 5-foot-10 Queens native on the Baruch men’s volleyball team, was named CUNY men’s volleyball player of the week for a second consecutive week. The graduate student led the Statesmen to a 2-0 mark last week, totaling 35 kills, 42 assists, 21 digs, 19 blocks and 10 service aces in wins over York and Brooklyn.

And then there was one

With the NCAA down to the Final Four in both men and women’s basketball and the NIT reduced to four teams, Sue Bird stands alone as the only former Queens standout left playing college basketball.

The Christ the King grad helped lead the University of Connecticut to the Final Four after scoring nine points and grabbing five boards in the Huskies 67-48 win over Louisiana Tech in the East Regional final at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Monday.

Bird also had 16 points and seven assists in UConn’s (32-2) 72-58 win over North Carolina State Saturday.

“In some ways Sue has been our leader since last year,” said Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma. “[Injured starters] Svetlana [Abrosimova] and Shea [Ralph] are such strong personalities that it was hard for someone else to come forward. But when something needed to be said in the huddle, it was Sue. When the right thing needed to be said, Sue said it.”

Bird, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, was also named to the All-East Regional Team. UConn will face Big East foe Notre Dame in the national semifinals Friday night in St. Louis.


St. John’s 7, Georgetown 3. The Red Storm rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the nightcap of a double header Saturday in Bethesda, Md. St. Francis Prep grad John-Paul Cirigliano tied the game with a two-run single in the fourth inning. St. John’s (8-10, 4-3) added two more runs in the fifth, one in the sixth and two in the ninth. Freshman Joe Reid picked up the win in his second career outing, allowing three runs on eight hits.

Georgetown 3, St. John’s 1. St. John’s starter Marc Goldberg allowed all three runs in the second inning to fall to 1-4. Jason Kane scored the lone run for the Red Storm with a solo home run in the fourth inning.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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