Notre Dame men’s and women’s squads win second ACC titles
Maureen Schweninger | Friday, May 13, 2016
Promise is one word that Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia uses often when describing this past year’s squad.
The men’s and women’s squads went 32-3 and 35-0, respectively, and they won many medals at ACC championships. Notre Dame team did not, however, come out on top in national competition as it had hoped. Overall, Kvaratskhelia said this year’s team was unique and hard to compare to others.
“I think talent-wise, we were as good as anyone,” Kvaratskhelia said. “But we still have to have enough bouting, enough years of experience to compete at a high level. It’s hard to differentiate this team from my others, other than that lack of experience. The entire theme was to get them to the point to learn the ropes of the NCAA competition and set the stage for the next few years.”
Highlights of the season included the women’s team going undefeated, led by senior epeeist Catherine Lee and freshman standout foilist Sabrina Massialas, both of whom garnered individual conference titles. The Irish also won three individual men’s crowns in ACC competition, and the men’s and women’s teams defended their conference championship title for the second consecutive year.
Kvaratskhelia said he was disappointed with Notre Dame’s fifth-place finish in the NCAA tournament but feels confident that there is room to grow.
“From the get go, we knew that the team was really young and inexperienced,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Having a majority freshmen … and sophomore lineup, we knew that we would have some consequential problems down the road.
“Those were amplified by the Olympics. We had three Olympic hopefuls taking a year off, and one of them was a three-time national champion [junior Lee Kiefer]. That’s a huge loss, along with [freshman] Amanda Sirico and [junior] Hazem Khazbak. Missing the upperclassmen with that caliber of athleticism and knowledge of the sport really hurt us at the end.”
Five current or former Irish student-athletes will represent Team USA in the Rio Olympics this summer, including Kiefer in foil. Kvaratskhelia said he looks forward to Khazbak, Sirico and Kiefer returning to the Irish squad this fall.
“There’s a really huge hope for next year, with the addition of a great recruiting class and the return of our Olympians,” Kvaratskhelia said. “I think we will be one of the favorites to win the NCAA title, granted that everything goes well and injury does not occur. This team will have a talent and experience now we didn’t have before to contest for the highest medals in competition.”