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Fencing

Lee Kiefer, Irish capture program’s ninth national title

| Friday, May 19, 2017

Senior foilist Lee Kiefer was a member of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams. She has competed at the Junior World Championships. And when she defeated Cornell’s Luby Kiriakidi at the NCAA championships in February, she clinched a national title for the Irish.

This year’s national championship was the ninth in program history, the team’s first since 2011 and the first for Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia. The Irish racked up 186 team points, defeating finalists Ohio State (161 points), Columbia (152 points), Princeton (145 points) and Harvard (124 points).

Irish junior Francesca Russo lunges at her opponent at the ACC championships on Feb. 27, 2016 at Castellan Family Fencing Center. The Irish women went on to win the event and Russo went undefeated on the day. Russo took home one of Notre Dame’s two individual titles in March. Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Irish junior Francesca Russo lunges at her opponent at the ACC championships on Feb. 27, 2016 at Castellan Family Fencing Center. The Irish women went on to win the event and Russo went undefeated on the day. Russo took home one of Notre Dame’s two individual titles in March.

Kvaratskhelia was especially proud of the title because he felt it was an accurate representation of the hard work his team has put in.

“We put in so much work in the pre-season, planning how to build a team culture that would be conducive to winning championships and that would honor the tradition of Notre Dame fencing,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Winning a championship validates and rewards all the faith our kids invested into what we were doing and all the work our kids put in from Day One until the last day of NCAAs.”

The Irish women took home two of the three individual national championships, as Kiefer won the foil event and junior Francesca Russo took home the sabre national title.

Kvaratskhelia felt that, overall, the men’s team success in the epee and both the men’s and women’s sabre teams helped propel the squad through the season to the national title.

“Our men’s epee was huge at ACCs; they were a rock,” Kvaratskhelia said. “At regionals, our sabre squads put everything together, overcoming a season’s worth of adversity and became what we thought they were capable of.”

On the women’s side, it was an undefeated road to the national championship. The team was laden with stars including national individual champions Kiefer and Russo. Sophomore epeeist Amanda Sirico was named a first team All-American, while sophomore foilist Sabrina Massialas earned second-team honors.

While no men won individual titles the team made significant contributions to the squad’s point total. Freshman and first-team All-American honoree Ariel Simmons went tied for third in the epee, going 15-8 on the day, while senior Kristjan Archer, junior Jonah Shainberg and sophomore Axel Kiefer also contributed 15-8 championship records.

With a veteran team heavy on seniors, Kvaratskhelia felt their leadership was a critical aspect of the victory.

“We were lucky to have great leadership from our top fencers, seniors and underclassmen,” Kvaratskhelia said. “I can’t single one person out [as the leader]; everyone played their part.”

Without those seniors next season, Kvaratskhelia will be looking to various other members of the team to step up and help the squad defend its title — which is something Kvaratskhelia does not have at the forefront of his focus. Kvaratskhelia also noted that he is not concerned about the team becoming complacent, as it will come back hungry for more success.

“Some have asked how we will defend our title. We aren’t ‘defending’ anything; we’ll be attacking like always,” Kvaratskhelia said. “The 2017 title is something that can’t be taken away. Next year, we will have a brand new team that hasn’t won anything. And that team’s goals will be to work hard and improve every day.”

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