Notre Dame travels to Oregon to open season
Zach Klonsinski | Wednesday, October 8, 2014
After a sixth-place finish in the NCAA championships this spring, Notre Dame looks forward to another shot at a national title this year.
Members of the team will travel to Portland, Oregon this weekend to participate in the first leg of the North American Cup. The Irish finished a distant sixth during last year’s NCAA tournament but will again field one of the top teams in the country, Irish associate head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said.
“Like always, we expect to be fighting for the national championships,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Being part of Notre Dame fencing, that’s our goal every year. But realistically, we’ll probably, with spring factor included, be top-three projecting from the beginning of the year. But it’s up to us how to use those resources and talents to hopefully go all the way.”
The men’s portion of the team graduated eight fencers last year, including two-time NCAA individual champion and two-time United States Olympian in foilist Gerek Meinhardt. However, Kvaratskhelia said the coaching staff is excited about the freshman class coming in this year.
“It’s hard to replace someone like Gerek Meinhardt who’s been probably — arguably — the best male fencer to ever attend this university,” Kvaratskhelia said. “But down the line, we have strong juniors and sophomores but incredibly strong freshmen class came in who should be giving us the lift for that drive in March.”
The women’s team only lost two seniors to graduation in the spring — epeeist Melissa Medina and foilist Adriana Camacho. Camacho was a four time All-Midwest Fencing Conference team selection, named to the first team after a third-place finish in foil at the MFC championships in 2011 and to the second team after finishing fifth, eighth and sixth in the event over the next three years, respectively.
With so many returning women’s team members this year, Kvaratskhelia said the coaches can really focus on shoring up the weak spots in the team’s lineup.
“Our probably weaker element was women’s sabre, which we revamped,” Kvaratskehelia said. “We have one of the best athletes for the sabre side in the nation came and became part of us, [freshman] Francesca Russo and we are going to utilize that resource. As long as our freshman class was big and strong, but we already had a pretty substantial women’s [roster] remaining here. So hopefully, women will be our strongest suit going to the national championship, like they always are.”
Kvaratskhelia also pointed out that this year may be one of the most-balanced teams Notre Dame has fielded in the past few years.
“Years back, we would have a superstar to load up in one weapon, but this year I am really having a hard time to distinguish,” Kvaratskhelia said. “We have [junior foilist] Lee Kiefer, who is the two-time defending national champion leading the charge with [senior foilist] Madison Zeiss, who was the [national] runner-up [in 2014], but I would be mistaken if I really distinguished any in terms of balance wise of the women’s team.
“The men’s team equally, we have [graduate student] Ariel DeSmet, who won [at] the national championships in 2011, but we have really tenacious and experienced freshman, so as long as the upperclassmen have to keep fighting for their qualifying spots. So I feel really confident about our team.”
This weekend’s tournament is individual-based, as no teams will travel there or compete together. Kvaratskhelia said for the most part, the team’s traveling roster would be making the trip. The tournament features preliminary pool-play matches that serve as seeding for a single-elimination tournament.
Kvaratskhelia said the tournament this weekend will be a great warm-up for the team as it starts the season.
“We are kind of kicking off the season and seeing where we are at in the preparation right now,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Most of our kids are in the top-15, top-20 rankings [in their weapon], some even higher, who will be participating over there, and it will be their experience — in terms of their results, will be — will matter to try and improve their ranking in the national light.
“For us, it’s really good to get extra bouting in as a kind of warm-up for the season, because the more you compete, the better you compare. So we are going to use that as a stepping stone.”
The North American Cup will take place at the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Oregon, from Friday through Monday.