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Fencing: Freshman Kiefer acclimates to ND

By Aaron Sant-Miller | Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Despite being a Division I women’s fencer and the youngest player on the 2012 United States Olympic fencing team, freshman Lee Kiefer is going through the same struggles as most college freshmen.

“I’m one of those people who needs to have my own space,” Kiefer said. “So, I’m struggling having to share a room. At the end of the day, it’s okay and I don’t mind it that much.”

Despite facing the usual speed bumps encountering an 18-year-old moving into a college dorm, Kiefer’s first collegiate season with team has begun with some success. On Saturday, Kiefer helped the Irish beat the reigning national champions, Ohio State, in an exhibition match, while winning the both of her matches in the foil division. Kiefer recently returned from the North American Cup in St. Louis, where she won the Division I Women’s Foil tournament on Oct. 14. The freshman said she has enjoyed the beginning of her first year at Notre Dame.

“So far, I just really like the team. That was one of the major reasons I was drawn to Notre Dame,” Kiefer said. “Everyone has a good mentality about fencing. It’s all for fun but we work hard. It’s a good balance that allows us to do well both in fencing and outside of fencing.”

For Kiefer, an aspiring pre-med major, this balance is helping academics not go by the wayside, she said.

“Academically, I missed 65 days of school [for fencing] my senior year of high school,” Kiefer said. “So, I’m used to doing a lot of work and getting things done under pressure. That hasn’t been that much of a challenge.”

Kiefer is currently ranked atop the women’s foil rankings in the U.S. in both the senior and junior division. Kiefer is also the No. 4 foilist in the world at the senior level. This summer Kiefer made the trip with the American fencing team to London for the Olympic games. While there, she battled her way to the quarterfinals, losing to the eventual silver medalist, Italy’s Arianna Errigo.

“It was a great experience,” Kiefer said. “I felt like a real athlete. I know that’s awful to say, but at the Olympics they treat fencing like an actual sport, which is really nice.”

This summer, Kiefer was the youngest member on the Olympic squad, but she said it wasn’t an entirely new experience.

“I’ve been the youngest player on the national team for the last year now, so at this point it’s pretty regular,” Kiefer said. “Everyone is just really nice and accepting. I heard that in past years the older people weren’t very nice to the younger fencers. I was really happy to see it wasn’t that way at all.”

For Kiefer, skill with the foil runs in the family. Her father was a fencer and team captain at Duke. Her sister Alex is a fencer at Harvard and helped Harvard win the 2011 NCAA title her freshman year. Even Kiefer’s younger brother, Axel, is gifted in the art of fencing, as he is the nation’s top-ranked 12-year-old fencer.

“When I was little, my dad made me and my siblings fence,” Kiefer said. “We thought it was cool when we first started, but then we realized how hard it was. It takes a lot of work to become good when you first start. So, because my dad made us fence against our will, we got good.”

Still, what draws Kiefer to the sport is the blend of skills it requires, she said.

“Fencing is a great sport if you want to be both physically and mentally challenged,” Kiefer said “It never gets boring and there is always something to work on.”

Kiefer has gotten a taste of the friendliness of the school through her own teammates she said.

“Notre Dame had everything I wanted in academics and fencing.” Kiefer said. “Everyone here is just so nice. That’s weird to say, but it’s definitely true.

“I just really like the fencing team. It seems like I should branch out, but I don’t really feel like I have the need. I like a lot of things, but I’m just really close to the fencing team and I like spending time with them, so that’s how I spend the majority of my time.”

Not surprisingly, what little free time Kiefer has, she spends resting. When things are a little bit slower in the summer, the Kentucky native said she enjoys reading.

“I’m always sleeping when I have the time,” Kiefer said. “Over the summer, when I actually had free time, I read a lot. This summer I was really hooked on ‘Game of Thrones.’ I just love to read. I haven’t really read in a few months though, which is sad.”

Despite being one of the nation’s top athletes in her sport and thriving on and off the strip, Kiefer continues to struggle with some of the same challenges other Notre Dame freshman face.

“Obviously, I knew there were going to be parietals when I came to Notre Dame, but I’m used to my parents just being more trusting,” Kiefer said. “It’s definitely taking some getting used to.”

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at [email protected]