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Notre Dame prepares for road trip

| Thursday, January 21, 2016

Notre Dame travels to Queens, New York, to take the strip in the St. John’s Duels and the NYU Invitational on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

This past weekend, the No. 1 women’s (5-0) and No. 2 men’s (4-1) squads hosted five varsity teams and nine club teams in the DeCicco Duels. Both teams swept the strip in a weekend that saw starters and reserves compete for the Irish.

“It’s like restarting the engine,” Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said. “I felt like we needed to get together as a cohesive unit before we hit the road and face the toughest competition of the year.”

The two duels will feature five of the current top-eight teams on the women’s side and six of the current top-seven teams on the men’s side according to the CollegeFencing360.com Coaches’ Poll.

At the St. John’s Duels on Saturday, the Irish face St. John’s, Penn State, Ohio State, Harvard and Columbia, the defending men’s and women’s national champions. Then, on Sunday, NYU and Yale replace Harvard and Penn State in the field.

Given the strength of the competition, Kvaratskhelia said this weekend will be a measuring stick for his teams as they work towards their goal of an NCAA championship.

“This is usually a statement competition,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Usually, the teams that perform well at those two duel meets end up in a very desirable spot at the [NCAA championships]. So we’re going to gauge, at the end of this tournament, where we are at and what adjustments we have to make to get to the top at the end of the season.”

Additionally, the duels will also allow Kvaratskhelia to see how the team handles top competition without several of its best fencers, who have taken the year off to train for the Olympics, he said. It is a test the team has not truly faced up to this point in the year.

“This year is really special for us and unusual for us because it is an Olympic year,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Three of our top athletes, potential NCAA winners, are taking the year off to train for Rio. We’re going to miss them a lot, and having that caliber of athletes absent will have an effect on us, but our recruiting classes have been good and our returning athletes are strong, so we are hopeful that we will live up to the expectations of our fans.”

After watching both starters and reserves compete this past weekend, Kvaratskhelia said the final lineups are far from set in stone, as the members of the team will continue to fight for their spots in the final lineup that goes to the NCAA Midwest regional qualifier over the next few weeks.

“I think it’s always a tinkering until we get to the end,” Kvaratskhelia said. “We have a lot of talented athletes, and they’re trying to find a place on the team to qualify and get a foothold on the squad that will go to the regional qualifiers.”

Kvaratskhelia said there will be a few athletes he will be following closely to see where they are at this point in the season and how they react to the competition.

“We have a defending NCAA champion, [sophomore sabreuse] Francesca Russo, who is a second-year starter for our women’s team,” Kvaratskhelia said. “A few freshmen too: [sabreuse] Tara Hassett, [men’s foilist] Axel Kiefer, [women’s foilist] Sabrina Massialas, and [men’s epeeist] Dylan French. Those are a few heavily recruited athletes who are promising fencers for us. It will be good to see how the freshman react.”

The Irish will begin with the St. John’s Duels on Saturday before finishing the weekend with the NYU Invitational on Sunday. Both duels will take place at St. John’s Arena in Queens, New York.

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About Benjamin Padanilam

Ben is a senior and The Observer’s former Editor-in-Chief, now serving as its interim Sports Editor. He is in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) and also pursuing minors in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) and Business Economics. He hails from Toledo, Ohio, and has enjoyed the few highs and many lows of being a Cleveland sports fan.

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