Notre Dame qualifies the full dozen for NCAA Championships
Brett O'Connell | Wednesday, March 18, 2015
The Irish qualified 12 entrants to the NCAA Championships during their showing at the Midwest Regionals on March 7 in Evanston, Illinois.
Freshmen Francesca Russo and Claudia Kulmacz finished second and third in women’s sabre, posting 10-2 and 9-3 records, respectively, on the afternoon. Junior foil and 2012 Olympian Lee Kiefer took first in her weapon category with a perfect 16-0 record, followed closely by the third-place finisher, senior Madison Zeiss. Senior Nicole Ameli held the highest placement on women’s epee, going 14-2 to claim second place in the event, while senior Ashley Severson and junior Catherine Lee claimed fourth and fifth places with identical 12-4 records.
The men’s team witnessed 2011 NCAA Champion Ariel DeSmet earn a second-place finish with his 10-2 record in foil, just one win ahead of his teammate, freshman Virgile Collineau, who claimed third with a 9-3 record on the weekend. Freshmen Jonah Shainberg (11-2) and Jonathan Fitzgerald (10-3) took second and fourth place in men’s sabre, while junior Garrett McGrath nabbed second place in epee with a 10-3 record.
Junior Sarah Followill spoke highly of her teammates’ performance at Regional Qualifiers.
“I think momentum [from earlier in the season] will definitely carry over,” Followill said. “Every fencer competing has extreme potential to qualify.”
Followill’s anticipation proved correct as the Irish qualified the maximum number of 12 entrants heading into the NCAA championships in Columbus, Ohio. The Irish join Columbia as the only two schools to qualify the maximum number of participants, with Penn State, Princeton and St. Johns each earning 11 bids. Harvard and regional rival Ohio State earned ten bids apiece.
Kiefer, the two-time defending NCAA champion who currently ranks No. 4 globally in the senior open category, is joined by Zeiss in the foil group. Epee captains Ameli and Severson each qualified, while women’s sabreuses Kulmacz and Russo also qualified.
The men will send six entries to the tournament as well, headlined by DeSmet and Collineau in foil. McGrath and freshman Nicholas Hanahan will represent the Irish in men’s epee, while the freshmen Shainberg and Fitzgerald will take the strip for the Irish at sabre.
Followill described the team’s preparation process as difficult but dynamic and manageable.
“It’s always hard when you’re competing every weekend to manage your time,” Followill said, “but it’s our job and we always find a way to do it. It’s been tough with midterms but school always comes first. … We have the best manager in the world, and so many other people to help us along. From our personal trainers, sports medicine staff, nutritionists and even our personal tutors, we have every resource we need to be successful student athletes.”
Followill also spoke to the success of first-year head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia.
“Gia is amazing,” she said. “As our new head coach, he dove into this season with commitment and dedication and has pushed us into success this year.”
The team’s efforts across the board have earned it a fighting chance at individual and team titles in the coming NCAA Championships. The Irish finish their season March 19-22 at the French Field House on the campus of Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio.