NCAA DIII Week Feature: Meg Harney '19, Wellesley College Fencing

Meg Harney '19 (center) joined the fencing team in 2015, having never fenced before (Frank Poulin).
Meg Harney '19 (center) joined the fencing team in 2015, having never fenced before (Frank Poulin).

After arriving on campus as a volleyball recruit, injuries sidelined Meg Harney '19, ending her volleyball career. However, an email about the Wellesley fencing program changed her experience as a Division III student-athlete, leading to the start of a great career in fencing. Below, Meg describes how she found a home with the fencing team and went from a novice to an NCAA regional qualifier, just as the Blue fencing program started a four-year rise to prominence that culminated in an NEIFC 3-weapon championship and a program record 23 wins this season.

"Interested in FENCING?"

By Meg Harney '19

I came to Wellesley as a volleyball recruit, but after a nagging back injury and a significant health scare one week into my first-semester, my volleyball career was over. For the first time since I was four years old, I didn't have practice to go to or teammates to eat with. Most of September, I wandered back to my dorm room after classes and did homework until dinner.

At dinner, I sat alone or made awkward small talk with tablemates before retreating to my room to finish problem sets and scroll the internet. This happened every day until September 27th when an email popped into my inbox; "Interested in FENCING? Open practice Thurs 10/1 at 4:30 pm." Four days later, I was in the fencing salle in the Keohane Sports Center forcing my feet to move perpendicularly as Taylor Hood '18, a sophomore foil fencer, explained how to hold a weapon.

Four of us who came for the open practice returned for the regular-season where we met Ariana Klinkov, the new head coach, who welcomed us, and explained that while each of the three weapons will have three starters, we, the walk-ons, would be crucial to the success of the program. We were the backbone of the team; the kids in gym-shoes who would take on the kids in Nike Airs whenever a starter couldn't. But first, we needed to decide what weapon we wanted, so Ariana divided us up for a game called slap the belly where each walk-on would try to hit the stomach of a returner with a glove.

I got a glove, put my left foot forward, turned my right foot to the side, and waited. As Ariana called out "Fence," I barreled towards Taylor who retreated in astonishment. The same pattern repeated with every returner I fenced, except for the two sabre fencers, Madeleine Barowsky '18 and Jasmine Davis '17, who smiled and sped towards me. After the drill, we all sat together, and Ariana asked the returners what weapon they felt would fit each of us. Sometimes they debated whether someone was more epee or foil, but everyone agreed I was sabre, the fastest and most aggressive of the weapons.

We separated into our squads where we were welcomed with high-fives and awkward hellos. As I spoke with Madeleine and Jasmine, Ariana walked over to me and told me that since there were only two sabre fencers, I would be a starter, and as fencing was so small, I would also sometimes fence against traditional Division I and Division II schools. I wasn't supposed to worry though; Ariana was not only the head coach but the sabre coach as well, and she was confident that with my left hand and natural inclination to attack, she could turn me into a sabre fencer.

Five weeks later, when I was still calling my fencing mask a helmet, I went up against a junior national champion and a junior Olympian. Five months later, I made it to the second round of the regional championship where I competed against fencers with ten years of experience and their last-names on the back of their lamés. By the end of the season, our team finished the season 10-10. One year later, with the incredible coaching of Ariana and Rob Charlton, our epee coach, we had three new first-years and a winning record.

Two years later, with eight first-years and seven returners, we had nine fencers advance to the regional championship, one of which made it to the final rounds, and I won the Northeast Fencing Conference's Sach's Award for the best fencer who started fencing in college. Three years later, with eight returners and Taylor now the foil coach, we had the most successful season in program history, an NEIFC title, and a first-place finish among all Division III schools in the northeast region.  

I graduated early in December 2018, and what I miss most isn't the nervous excitement of competing, the exhilaration of planning and executing a perfect action, or the elation and strange relief of winning my bout. It's the bus rides. It's trekking through the snow and wandering into the gym at 6:45 am to see my groggy teammates resting their heads on each other's shoulders. It's invading the dining halls and making each other laugh until we nearly choke on our food. It's watching my teammates grow from confused first years into strong, smart, capable upperclasswomen and realizing that everything's going to be OK after they graduate. They'll continue the legacy and always answer my calls.

NCAA Division III Week is an annual week-long celebration of Division III student-athletes and the impact they have on Division III campuses and in their surrounding communities. This year, NCAA Division III Week begins on Monday, April 1 and continues until Sunday, April 7. For more information, visit