Irish head to Durham for Duke Duals
Benjamin Padanilam | Thursday, February 4, 2016
Notre Dame travels to Durham, North Carolina, to take the strip in the Duke Duals starting Saturday.
This past weekend, the second-ranked women’s and men’s squads competed against several strong programs, including Penn, Penn State, Ohio State and Princeton — all of whom are ranked in the top 10 on both the men and women’s side — in the Northwestern Duals at Castellan Family Fencing Center.
Over the two days, the men finished 11-1, dropping only their match against No. 3 Penn, while the women finished 12-0. After the NYU Invitational and St. John’s Duals were canceled the prior weekend due to weather, the Irish needed to come away with a strong performance at the Northwestern Duals, head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said.
“The meet was already big with Penn and Princeton, plus Northwestern on the women’s side,” Kvaratskhelia said. “It became extra important once we added Ohio State to our bouting schedule and once Penn State agreed to come.”
Following the meet, Kvaratskhelia said he was impressed by several things he saw from his program over the weekend.
“I was pleased with our performance,” Kvaratskhelia said. “The men losing to Penn was disappointing, especially when we were up 13-9 and only needed one more bout, but the men bounced back immediately and emphatically [beating UC San Diego, 23-4.] They showed me something that I think we can build on for the future.
“For the big ‘spotlight’ matches — Ohio State, Penn State and the Northwestern women’s match — our kids came out focused and almost ravenous. It was fantastic.”
Now, with the Duke Duals representing the team’s final action before the ACC championship, the Irish turn their focus on continuing to improve and find success in another challenging meet, Kvaratskhelia said.
“The Duke Duals are a special meet; they’re put on in an exquisite fashion,” Kvaratskhelia said. “The venue is almost cauldron-like; it can get very warm, and it will get very, very loud. Add to that conference rivals like Duke and North Carolina, plus Penn State and Temple’s women. And Brandeis is also tough — well-coached, very competitive. It’s a tremendous challenge.”
While his program has had a successful season up to this point, Kvaratskhelia said he still expects to see improvement from his team. In fact, he said he believes the team needs to make progress every step of the way and in all areas to not only find success but also maintain it, he said.
“You always want to improve in all facets: skill development, conditioning, tactics, the mental game,” Kvaratskhelia said. “If you stop progressing, you regress as a program. So far, we’ve been progressing every event. We want to keep on that trajectory all the way through NCAAs.”
Kvaratskhelia said the team as a whole was impressive this past weekend, but there were several individuals on both the men and women’s sides who had performances that stuck out to him and who he wants to continue to see those competitors progress, he said.
“It’s hard to single out anyone; so many of our starters came through in the big matches,” Kvaratskhelia said. “But to mention a few: [sophomore sabre] Jonathan Fitzgerald kept us in the match against Ohio State as the score see-sawed down the stretch. [Sophomore sabre] Jonah Shainberg and [senior sabre] John Hallsten were huge against Penn State, as were [junior foil] Kristjan Archer and [senior epee] Garrett McGrath.
“On the women’s side, [freshman epee Madeline] Antekeier has come up huge for us; her development is a big sign. Add that to [freshman foil] Sabrina Massialas and [sophomore sabre] Francesca Russo plus the great leadership we’re getting from [senior epee] Catherine Lee and [senior foil Nicole] McKee, and you can see why the women are doing so well.”
Additionally, the men’s team will get a big boost with the return of freshman foil Axel Kiefer, who returns from competing in the Junior World Cup this past weekend, Kvaratskhelia said.
“Axel is a huge element of whatever success we have; I expect a big day from him on Saturday,” Kvaratskhelia said.
The Duke Duals are set to begin Saturday at Card Gym in Durham.