For Jake Hoyle, 15th place just wouldn't do.
"It was a huge disappointment," said the Philadelphia native and Columbia University junior, reflecting on his finish at the 2014 NCAA individual fencing championships. "It was one of those results that you put up in your locker to make you work harder during the year."
That hard work – mostly mental, according to Hoyle, 20 – paid off. Last month at the NCAA championships in Columbus, Ohio, Hoyle went 19-5 in his 24 bouts to win the men's epée title. With the win, he claimed all-American honors and became the first Lion from the famed program to win the men's individual crown since Ben Atkins in 1993.
"It feels great," said Hoyle, a fencer since sixth grade. "I've been working toward this for a long time. It was one of my goals coming in as a freshman at Columbia, to make first-team all America and win a national championship."
Hoyle needed an overtime session to defeat fellow Columbia all-American Brian Ro in the semifinals. He then dispatched of Princeton's Jack Hudson, 15-11, for the title.
Hoyle's success comes as no surprise to Columbia coach Mike Aufrichtig.
"He was a part of my first recruiting class," Aufrichtig said. "He told me then, 'Coach, I want to be an all-American.' Three years later he's a national champion."
Hoyle's pursuit of his dream began when he decided to take a physical fitness unit as a student at the Strath Haven Middle School under the tutelage of Pixie Roane, a Temple product and the founder of the Wallingford-Swarthmore Panthers Fencing Club.
Hoyle fell in love with the sport and his talents became obvious. In quest of better competition, Hoyle began working out against far more experienced epeeists at the Fencing Academy of Philadelphia. Along the way he met former Penn coach Dave Micahnik, who retired following the 2008-09 season after 35 years.
But when it was time to select a college, Columbia, which has now won 14 NCAA team fencing titles, seemed right for Hoyle. When he's not working out with his Lions teammates, Hoyle - already eying team and individual titles next season - trains at the New York Athletic Club with former Olympians and world team members.
"It was the best place for me to be," Hoyle said.
Hoyle hasn't decided if fencing is in his future after he graduates.
"We'll see," he said, "Right now I'm just enjoying what I've accomplished."