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Irish take fifth at NCAA championships

| Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Notre Dame took fifth place at the NCAA championships this past weekend, bringing its season to a close.

The four-day event opened with the women competing over the first two days. The Irish stood in second place heading into the men’s half of the team event, trailing leader and eventual national champion Columbia by just two points.

However, the men struggled to carry that momentum forward, as Notre Dame dropped three spots over last two days and finished the event with a fifth-place finish in the 25-school field. Having came into the event with national championship aspirations, the Irish were disappointed with their performance, head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said.

“Obviously we have a very disappointed team right now — that happens any time your goals are set so high and you fall short, and for our athletes it’s compounded because they know they have the skill to accomplish it,” Kvaratskhelia said.

Although the level of competition was as strong as expected, Kvaratskhelia said he thought the team’s disappointing finish was largely due to failure to consistently pick up points in key opportunities.

“The talent level at the NCAA championships is always exceptionally high, but at the same time we have very talented fencers on our roster as well,” he said. “Our head-to-head bout performances support this: We split our bouts with first-place Columbia and second-place Ohio State, and we came out ahead against third-place Princeton. So that tells us that they gained separation over us through their performances against the rest of the field, and by extension that we weren’t consistent enough against those other fencers.”

While its finish as as team was underwhelming by its own expectations, Notre Dame saw 10 of its 12 fencers earn All-American honors this weekend. Headlining the group were freshmen Axel Kiefer and Sabrina Massialas, who were both named first team All-Americans following their third-place finishes in the men’s and women’s foil, respectively. Kvaratskhelia said he was also pleased with seniors Catherine Lee and Nicole McKee, who earned second and third team All-American honors for their performances in women’s epee and foil, respectively.

“Sabrina and Axel were tremendous for us,” Kvaratskhelia said. “It speaks a lot to their mental toughness that they led our performances as freshmen, as this is a very grueling competition for first-time fencers. I was also very pleased with our two seniors making their first NCAA appearances, Catherine Lee and Niki McKee, as they both put in a lot of work over their careers to have this opportunity and showed a lot of grit and determination in their performances.”

Irish freshman foilist Axel Kiefer competes at the ACC championships Feb. 28 at the Castellan Family Fencing Center. Kiefer finished in third place in the men's foil at the NCAA championships last weekend.Emma Farnan | The Observer
Irish freshman foilist Axel Kiefer competes at the ACC championships Feb. 28 at the Castellan Family Fencing Center. Kiefer finished in third place in the men’s foil at the NCAA championships last weekend.

With Notre Dame’s season now finished, Kvaratskhelia said the team is already focusing on how it can improve for next year. Kvaratskhelia recognized the Irish are in a good spot going forward as far as talent is concerned, and added they will certainly be in a position to compete for a national championship next season.

“There are still so many positives going for us moving forward,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Nine of our 12 NCAA qualifiers this season [were] freshmen or sophomores, making us by far the youngest full team at NCAAs this year. Knowing that we have the talent here, we have the opportunity to learn from this with this group and iron out the inconsistencies we saw in some of our results. We have another tremendous freshman class joining us in the fall, and we welcome back great fencers in Lee Kiefer, Amanda Sirico and Hazem Khazbak, who all took a year off for the Olympic qualification cycle.

“With all that going for us, this performance’s impact on momentum will only be negative if we allow it to be. This is a team full of competitors, and they’re not happy with a finish like this. As a result, I’m anticipating that they’ll be a highly motivated group through offseason and carrying over into next season.”

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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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