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Irish prep for ACC Championships following Junior Olympics

| Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Coming off an eventful run at the Junior Olympics last weekend in which two Notre Dame fencers medaled, the Irish will travel to Chapel Hill this weekend for the ACC Championships, with the men competing Saturday and the women competing Sunday.

Twelve Irish fencers participated in the Junior Olympics in Richmond, Virginia, which lasted from Friday to Monday. Seven of the 12 finished in the top 15 in their respective events, highlighted by a gold-medal win by freshman epee Amanda Sirico and a bronze-medal win by freshman sabre Jonathan Fitzgerald.

With the women’s team ranked No. 2 in the CollegeFencing360.com national rankings and the men’s team coming in at No. 4, the Irish head into the conference championships as serious contenders. Notre Dame has had a slew of impressive performances this season as the women’s team enters the championship season with a 29-2 record, while the men’s carry a 23-6 record.

“The entire team’s strength is definitely its cohesiveness,” freshman sabre Francesca Russo said. “We all understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths and know when to pull someone out and put someone else in. In addition, we have all been working on our cheering and support. We may be the loudest team at ACC championships.”

Russo is one of several players who have won accolades in the 2014-2015 season. The Irish swept the ACC Male and Female Fencers of the Week awards three times, with the most recent winners being Fitzgerald and junior foil Lee Kiefer. Senior epee Ashley Severson and freshman sabre Jonah Shainberg took the honors in January while Russo and sophomore foil Hazem Khazbak swept the awards in November.

Russo said the team’s packed schedule at the end of the season makes every weekend challenging, as Notre Dame will participate in the US Fencing Association (USFA) National Championship the weekend after the ACC competitions.

“Individually, I am trying to push myself even more every day because we have competitions coming up every weekend leading up to NCAAs,” Russo said. “As a team we are all coming together to keep training hard, fencing-wise and strength and conditioning-wise.”

Following Notre Dame’s performance at the conference championships and USFA competition, the team will travel to Evanston for the NCAA Midwest Regional Qualifier on March 7, ultimately leading up to the NCAA National Championships on March 20. Performing under pressure will prove crucial for the Irish as they move forward, Russo said.

“Our biggest struggle going into this competition would have to be dealing with the nerves,” Russo said. “Personally, I think I am pretty good at staying calm, and my team definitely helps me to stay grounded, but considering the importance of this competition, it could be be a bit nerve wracking. I think we will all be fine though.”

The Irish will look to come out on top at the ACC Championships in Chapel Hill, N.C., starting Saturday.

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