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Notre Dame sets sights on title repeat at NCAA championships

| Thursday, March 22, 2018

Notre Dame will prepare to defend its title starting Thursday at the NCAA championships with a full roster of 12 competitors. As one of only three schools, along with Columbia and Ohio State, to qualify the maximum number of athletes, the Irish have positioned themselves to compete for a repeat of last year’s success.

The women enter the national stage with a target on their back as the top-ranked team. Senior Francesca Russo and junior Tara Hassett will lead off in the sabre. Meanwhile, juniors Sabrina Massialas and Elyssa Kleiner will look to defend their gold and silver sweep of the foil at the Midwest Regional championship last week. Junior Amanda Sirico, who was recently named ACC female fencer of the year in women’s epee, will be joined by freshman Dasha Yefremenko in epee. Sirico, an All-American, lost in the semifinals of last year’s NCAA championships.

Hosted by Penn State, the championship is based on the combined results of the men’s and women’s tournament. 

The men’s team recently dropped from the No. 1-ranked position to No. 4 in the polls. However, it is still very much a four-team race, with the point differential between the top-four teams being significantly closer than the remaining ranked teams.

Senior sabreurs Jonah Shainberg and Jonathan Fitzgerald will lead off for the Irish on the men’s side of the bracket. This will be the third-straight NCAA championships for the pair, who finished fifth and eighth, respectively, at last year’s competition. Junior Axel Kiefer and freshman Nick Itkin will look to build on their momentum of their silver and bronze finishes in foil at the Midwest Regional championship. Rounding out the team roster, senior epeeist Nicholas Hanahan — competing in his first NCAA championship since his freshman season — will join sophomore Ariel Simmons, who is making his second appearance at the championships in as many years.

Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia credited the captains and seniors as being instrumental to the development of the team heading into the postseason.

“They’ve encouraged our freshmen and those competing for the first time,” he said of his program’s veterans. “They’re helping them to understand the expectations at this point in the season and how to deal with that stress.”

Of the 12 fencers competing, seven are 2017 All-Americans, including one reigning national champion in individual competition, as Russo won the title in women’s sabre last year as well as in 2015.

Although the team is certain to highlight those veteran fencers and the achievements of last year’s team, Kvaratskhelia said they’ve closed that chapter and are committed to the current season.

“It’s a new team with new expectations,” he said.

The four-day tournament will consist of individual round-robin duals for each weapon. The top-four finishers in each event will advance to the semifinals, with each round-robin victory resulting in a team point. The team national champion will be determined Sunday.

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