COLUMBUS, Ohio - Duke senior Becca Ward captured her third NCAA Championship Friday, defeating Penn State's Monica Aksamit, 15-12, in the finals of the 2012 NCAA Fencing Women's Saber Championship at Ohio State University.
Ward, who also won the 2009 and 2011 NCAA Saber Championships, became the fifth women's fencer in NCAA history to win three national titles and and the first to win three NCAA Saber Championships. The only other fencer to win two NCAA Saber Championships was Ward's 2008 Olympic teammate and fellow bronze medalist Sada Jacobson, who claimed the 2001 and 2002 titles at Yale. Ward, a four-time All-America honoree, is the only fencer in Duke history to win multiple national titles.
"It's gotten more and more emotional each time [at the NCAA Championships] because I feel closer and closer to the team and with [head coach Alex Beguinet]," Ward said. "It was really emotional to fence the last time for Duke. It's the last time I'll be representing Duke on the fencing strip. It was an amazing experience, and I'm glad to have my team here with me. It will be good to be here the last two days cheering the guys on."
The Portland, Ore., native stood in second place following day one of the championships and went 19-3 in the opening rounds to advance to Friday's championship rounds for the fourth time in her career. In a rematch of the 2011 NCAA Championship, Ward defeated Princeton's Eliza Stone, 15-5, in the semifinals to set up the title bout with Aksamit.
"I fenced Eliza in the semis and also in the last round, so it was really fresh having just faced her. I just wanted to go in and be aggressive, control the bout from the beginning and not let her get confident. It was a decisive bout, and I was really happy with how I fenced."
Said Ward of her championship bout against Aksamit, "I had traveled with her before, so we'd gone and fenced together and had watched each other fence. It was odd fencing her in the final bout because we were both very cognizant of how each other fenced and were both trying to change a lot. It was a different bout than what would have been had we not traveled together.
"It was back and forth, but I pulled it out in the end. It was all really emotional afterwards. I couldn't be happier."
Ward becomes the third student-athlete in school history to win three NCAA Championships and the first to win three individual NCAA titles. Only Duke women's golfers Anna Grzebien and Jennifer Pandolfi won three national championship rings during their Duke careers, helping Duke capture three consecutive NCAA titles from 2005-07.
The 2012 NCAA Championship caps a remarkable four-year career for Ward who won two bronze medals with Team USA at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing before fencing in her first collegiate match. At Duke, she went on to reach the NCAA Championship bout during all four years, winning in 2009, 2011 and 2012. She was named All-America during all four years, becoming the second Duke fencer to accomplish that feat, and set Duke's single-season and career wins records. Her 81 victories in 2012 are the most in a season by a Duke fencer, and her career regular season record of 272-7 (.975) is tops in school history. She lost only one bout this season.
Also competing in the women's championship for Duke were freshman epee Sarah Collins and junior epee Emily D'Agostino. Collins captured a 13th-place finish with an 11-12 record, wrapping up an impressive freshman sesaon in which she went 62-23 for the fourth most wins on the women's team and the second most on the epee squad. D'Agostino, a two-time All-America who advanced to the NCAA Championships for the third straight season, finished the day in 20th place.
With Ward's 19 points and a combined 18 points from Collins and D'Agostino, Duke sits in 11th place out of the 20 teams competing in the national championship despite not entering a single fencer in the women's foil field. The Duke men will get their shot to add to Duke's point total beginning Saturday. The Blue Devils will send epees Tristan Jones and Dylan Nollner and saber Anthony Lin. Senior Jonathan Parker -- a 2011 All-American at the championships -- will serve as an alternate for the epees.