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Fencing surprises with top finishes at NCAA Northeast Regionals

Alexandra Tzou ’26, Anika Breker ’24 to compete in 2024 Fencing Championships

Alexandra Tzou ’26 and Rebecca Whang ’25 were the only fencers from Bruno to be exempted from the first pool during the competition, hence the Bears' need for underdog victories.
Courtesy of Brown Athletics
Alexandra Tzou ’26 and Rebecca Whang ’25 were the only fencers from Bruno to be exempted from the first pool during the competition, hence the Bears' need for underdog victories. Courtesy of Brown Athletics

On Sunday, the fencing team took up arms at Brookville, New York in the NCAA Northeast Regionals. Despite having some of the lower-seeded duelers, the Bears managed to bring home some surprising upsets and qualifications for the NCAA championships.

The day opened strongly for the Bears on the epee with Dasha Smuk ’26 — who was named one of last year’s First Team All-Stars in the Northeast Fencing Conference — winning all four of her matches in her pool, putting her through to the second round. 

Smuk managed to make it through the second round with a record of 3-3, a far cry from the previous dominant form that the 35th-seeded fencer had posted. 

In the third round, Smuk only managed a single win against Harvard’s Isabella Chin, who would go on to place third overall. Despite not making it to the final round, Smuk managed to jump the seedings from her initial 35th place to a respectable 19th place overall.


Alongside Smuk were her teammates Arianna Baffa ’24 and Amy Mao ’27, who started the day seeded 42nd and 32nd, respectively. Baffa managed to climb the seedings up to a 37th-place finish, but Mao dropped to 38th in the epee. 

In the saber, the Bears had their first exemption. Alexandra Tzou ’26 — who finished 16th at this same competition last year — and Rebecca Whang ’25 were the only Bruno fencers to be exempted from the first pool throughout the whole competition. They ended the day ranked 10th and 21st, respectively.

Just behind them in the rankings were Alyssa Sun ’26 and Soph Bililies ’27 at 32nd and 33rd, respectively, forcing them to take on the first pool.

Bililies put on a dominant performance in her first pool, winning all four matchups and out-touching opponents 20-9. Sun also had fun in the first, taking home wins in three of four matchups. They both qualified for the second pool alongside their exempted teammates. 

Sun went on to only win two matches in her next pool, dropping her out of the competition.

Bililies continued her dominance, winning five out of six matches in her pool. Whang also showed up for her first action of the day in a big way, taking on six opponents and bringing all six down. The sabreuse only allowed 20 touches and managed 30 of her own to take home huge wins for the Bears.

Coming out of this round, both Bililies and Whang improved their placements from 33rd and 21st to fifth and third, respectively.

Tzou won four of six in the pool, advancing to 14th place.

Despite dominating in the first two pools, the Bears seemingly hit a wall in the third. Between their 18 bouts, they only took home five wins, and Bruno was swept out of the saber. Tzou finished at 15th, Bililies in the 17th position and Whang in her original 21st seeding.

Despite some of the early momentum carried by Bruno’s fencers, they frequently failed to convincingly finish. That changed during the foil.


Like in the epee, the Bears had no duelers exempt from the first round. But the ranked fencers were not prepared for the rise of Anika Breker ’24 and Jessie Chen ’27. 

Chen and Breker were ranked 23rd and 26th respectively, forcing them to compete in the opening pool. The women’s foil was the most populated competition, with 58 fencers bidding for the podium. 

“My season was okay, but unfortunately I was dealing with the fallout of a back injury during the first half of our season which affected my performance,” Breker wrote in an email to The Herald. “As a result of that, I would say that the regular season rankings weren't super reflective of my ability level.”

Both Chen and Breker walked their way through the first pool, taking down all 8 of their opponents in clinical fashion.

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“Going into regionals, I knew regardless of where my initial seeding was, it was going to be an uphill battle just by the sheer number of bouts and the level of competition that is in our region,” Breker added. “We have five of the eight Ivies in the northeast division, as well as several other D1 schools like (St. John’s University) and (Boston College). I would say my mindset going into it was just taking it one match at a time.”

They both then went on to win five of six in the second bouts, qualifying for the third pool.

But “You can’t be thinking about the round of 12 before you make it out of the first pool,” Breker wrote. “I think making it out of the last play-in round and into the pool of 12 meant the most to me because that was where I had been knocked out in my sophomore and junior seasons.”

Both Breker and Chen made it to the final “Round of 12,” where they faced each other. 

“Those bouts are always tough because you’ve been training with them the whole season and of course you want to support them and hope that they do well too,” Breker wrote.

Breker’s seniority shone through as she defeated Chen, taking her first win of seven — earning her eventual fifth-place finish. 

Chen took home six wins to earn eighth-place.

“I’m very proud of our women’s fencing team and their courage and determination at perhaps the most difficult national qualifying tournament in the country,” Head Coach Alex Ripa said in an interview with Brown Athletics. “They performed beyond expectations, and I hope we may have qualified two athletes to Nationals. What a great way to cap off our season.”

After this weekend, both Tzou and Breker were selected to compete in the 2024 Fencing Championships.

“Overall, getting to NCAA championships has been one of my goals since before I even got to college, so to achieve that goal is really amazing,” Breker wrote.

Dennis Carey

Dennis Carey is a Sports Editor who enjoys playing volleyball, listening to and collecting vinyl records, and poorly playing the guitar in his spare time.


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