SAN ANTONIO – The University of Pennsylvania men’s fencing team wrapped up its two-day competition at the NCAA Combined Men’s and Women’s Fencing Championships in sixth place on Friday, but the story of the day was junior Michael Mills. Spurred on by a heart-stopping 15-14 win over Penn State’s Adrian Bak in the national semifinals, Mills captured Penn’s first individual national title in fencing since 1997 with a 15-9 victory over Shaul Gordon, also of Penn State, in the final.
After winning 12 of his 15 bouts on Thursday, Mills was in a good position to advance to the national semifinals with a solid showing on Friday morning. With wins in five of his eight bouts this morning, he moved into the national semifinals with the No. 3 seed. Facing Bak in his first 15-touch bout, the two dueled back and forth until a run of four straight touches helped Mills to open up an 8-4 lead at the midway break in the action. Bak was quick to rally though, and had soon overtaken Mills. Nine of the next 12 touches in the bout went to Bak and Mills found himself suddenly facing a 13-11 deficit. The pair traded the next two points to make it 14-12, but just as Mills appeared to be through, he ran off three touches in a row to stun Bak and advance into the national title bout.
The other semifinal had featured just as much drama. Though St. John’s Daryl Homer won 22 of 23 bouts in the round-robin portion of the competition, he was knocked off by Penn State’s Gordon by the same score of 15-14 in the bout before Mills took to the strip. Using his tremendous height advantage and reach to full effect against Gordon in the final, Mills turned the bout on its head with nine straight touches to turn a 5-3 hole into a 12-5 advantage. The Nittany Lion freshman tried to recover, scoring three in a row to pull within 12-8, but Mills closed him out in some tense final moments, taking home the crown with the 15-9 win.
Cliff Bayer was the last Quaker to claim a national title, winning the men’s foil competition in 1997. Prior to today, the last men’s sabre champion was Paul Friedberg, who won back-to-back titles in 1980 and 1981.
It was a successful day all around for Penn men’s fencing. Evan Prochniak ended his four years in the Red and Blue by being named a second-team All-American. The now four-time All-American won 14 bouts over the two days of sabre competition and placed eighth.
In epee, freshman Ayyub Ibrahim made a name for himself with 14 wins and an eighth place finish, good to be named a second-team All-American. Ibrahim narrowly missed out on a spot in the national semifinals himself, the No. 4 seed in epee was just ahead of him with 15 wins. Junior Clifford Fishler placed 16th in epee with 10 wins on Thursday and Friday.
Men’s foil didn’t fare as well as the other weapons, but with two freshmen representing them at the Championships, the future is bright for this group. Adam Elkassas had six wins and finished 21st, while Leland Bernstein collected five wins and placed 23rd.
Friday wrapped up the men’s competition, with the women taking over as standard-bearers beginning on Saturday morning. Though the Quakers are currently sixth, it’s a position that will be difficult to maintain since there are only three women’s fencers from Penn in the competition. Action resumes at Freeman Coliseum tomorrow at 10 a.m.