On top of the prestige of an individual national title, Becca Ward had a bit extra on the line in Sunday’s NCAA saber final: bragging rights.
And after the freshman’s 15-4 win against Harvard’s Caroline Vloka, one of her closest friends, Ward had both bragging rights and a national championship, the second fencing crown in Duke history.
A 22-1 record in the pool round secured Ward a spot in the semifinals at Penn State, where she defeated Columbia’s Daria Schneider 15-9. From there, a matchup with Vloka was inevitable-but for Ward, Vloka wasn’t necessarily a new opponent.
“We fenced Y-10, Y-12, Y-14, Cadet, Junior and Senior, and I have literally fenced her in a final from Y-10 to Senior,” Ward said. “We’re really good friends. We talk a lot…. It was great to win for Duke and everything, but it’s hard to fence that close of a friend.”
Ward and Vloka warmed up together on the first day, faced off during the pool round and fired jokes back and forth throughout the entire tournament.
But when the two stepped onto the strip with a championship on the line, the pressure was on.
“Collegiate fencing is a little bit different, because you’re fencing individually, but you have that whole team pressure,” said Ward, who led Duke to an 11th-place finish. “But once it gets to the semifinals, for me, it becomes more of an individual tournament…. You still win for Duke, but [at that point] the teams had already been settled.”