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Notre Dame turns its focus to NCAA Midwest Regional Qualifier

| Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Fresh off of a series of successful individual showings at the USFA Nationals and a pair of ACC titles, Notre Dame prepares for the upcoming NCAA Midwest Regional Qualifier on Saturday in Evanston, Illinois.

Two Irish fencers medaled in Division I competition this past weekend at the U.S. Fencing Association’s national meet in Reno, Nevada. Senior Ashley Severson earned a bronze medal in women’s epee, while junior Nicole McKee earned bronze in the women’s foil event. Freshmen sabres Claudia Kulmacz and Francesca Russo finished sixth and seventh place, respectively, on their weapons.

On the men’s side, standout freshman sabre Jonah Shainberg earned a seventh place finish overall on his weapon, securing him an automatic spot on the U.S. Men’s Junior Olympic Fencing Team.

The No.2 Irish women’s squad (20-2) and No. 4 men’s team (17-7) will now turn their focus toward a return to NCAA competition as they will travel to the NCAA Midwest Regional Qualifier on Saturday.

The Irish competed in Evanston on Jan. 31, when they made short work of their competition en route to undefeated afternoons for both the men’s and women’s sides at the Northwestern Duals. In fact, the Irish have been undefeated in NCAA competition since their last trip to Evanston, posting perfect records in the DeCicco Duals at the Castellan Family Fencing Center on Feb. 7-8 as well as at the ACC tournament Feb. 21-22, when the team took home its first sweep of ACC titles in program history.

Sophomore sabre Allison Barry lunges on day two of the DeCicco Duals on Feb. 8 at Castellan Family Fencing Center. Notre Dame’s men’s and women’s teams finished the weekend 9-0.Wei Lin | The Observer
Sophomore sabre Allison Barry lunges on day two of the DeCicco Duals on Feb. 8 at Castellan Family Fencing Center. Notre Dame’s men’s and women’s teams finished the weekend 9-0.

Despite Notre Dame’s recent success, tough competition awaits the Irish in the upcoming NCAA Championships. Despite their performances as of late, the Notre Dame women’s squad sits second in the polls, one spot behind Columbia. Columbia received nine of the 10 first-place votes, with the final vote going to the Irish women. The men find themselves in fourth place in the polls behind the likes of rival Ohio State, Columbia and top-ranked Penn State. The first-place votes are more disparate in the men’s poll, though, with Penn State receiving only six of the 10 top votes. Others receiving votes include Columbia, which received two, and Notre Dame and No. 6 St. John’s, which received both one apiece.

Russo said the team is focused on carrying its momentum through to the end of the season.

“All in all, everyone is taking it fairly seriously, and we know that it is crunch time,” Russo said.

Russo spoke highly of Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia, who joined the Irish staff in 2007 before being promoted to the head coach position last December following the retirement of longtime head coach Janusz Bednarski.

“Coach Gia is one of the sweetest and most supportive coaches I have ever dealt with,” said Russo. “He is a natural leader and is very knowledgeable about what it takes to be a national champion. He will always be on his student’s side and will do anything it takes to make us each, individually, happy and comfortable.”

This will be Kvaratskhelia’s first NCAA championship appearance while at the helm of the Irish program. The Irish finished sixth place overall in the 2014 NCAA Championships last March, despite gold medal finishes in both men’s and women’s foil by Gerek Meinhardt and Lee Kiefer, respectively. Kiefer, now a junior, looks to win her second consecutive gold at this year’s tournament, while Meinhardt graduated last spring but remained on the team in a coaching capacity.

The Irish will be training intensively over the upcoming break in an attempt to make final improvements and preparations for the NCAA Championships, according to Russo.

“This spring break, we will be staying on campus and doing an intense training camp that will consist of two practices a day,” she said. “It is going to be relaxing not having the stresses of schoolwork, but definitely intense thinking about fencing for all of us.”

Behind their recent momentum, the Irish travel to Evanston, Illinois, this Saturday for the NCAA Midwest Regional Qualifier at Northwestern University.

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