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“Every guy has an individual battle”: ND fencing leaders, former NFL coach discuss team success before Stanford game

| Monday, October 1, 2018

Notre Dame fencing head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia, fencing team captain senior Sabrina Massialas and former NFL coach and Notre Dame football player Tom Clements spoke at the Eck Center Friday as part of the “Catching Up With…” Football Friday lecture series.

Kvaratskhelia and Massialas began the conversation by discussing how they became involved in fencing. Kvaratskhelia grew up in the Soviet Republic of Georgia and was a member of the Georgian National Foil Team in fencing before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. He immigrated to America years later and continued his fencing career by competing and eventually coaching.

Massialas — who won gold at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics in China — said she began fencing at the age of seven under the instruction of her three-time Olympian father, Greg Massialas.

“It was such an honor to compete for my country,” she said. “It’s such a prestigious competition and a great lead-up to the real Olympics.”

Led by Kvaratskhelia, Notre Dame fencing won a national title in 2017 and again in 2018. Kvaratskhelia, who was named national Coach of the Year by the United States Fencing Coaches Association in July, spoke about the sport of fencing itself.

“Fencing is called physical chess, an intellectual conversation with sabers,” Kvaratskhelia said. “It is incredibly emotionally charged. You have to calculate three to four moves ahead and it’s physically daunting.”

Fencing competitions consist of both individual and team competitions. Massialas said the tight-knit nature of the team allows for support rather than competition.

Kvaratskhelia said he approaches the preparation of the team differently every year to continue improving and refining the students’ skills.

“[The goal is] evolution in every single year I coach … we don’t do the expectation about the NCAA,” he said. “We don’t think about tomorrow, our goal is to win today, to beat today and to do our best every single moment.”

Last year the team practiced and competed by the slogan ‘humble and hungry,’ Kvaratskhelia said.

Massialas said ‘humble and hungry’ refers to the teammates “getting better every day” by bettering themselves and being the best they can be.

Following Kvaratskhelia and Massialas, Tom Clements — who played football for Notre Dame in the 1973 national championship and later coached for Notre Dame and the NFL — spoke about his career.

Clements recalled the atmosphere at Notre Dame in 1973 when the Irish took on USC, a defending national champion.

“The campus was electric,” Clements said. “ … It had started the week before when we played Army at West Point, where we beat them 62-3. Everyone was jumping around, excited and enthusiastic, not because we had beaten Army, but because we knew Southern California was the next game.”

After beating USC, the Irish finished the regular season undefeated and played the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. After defeating the Crimson Tide 24-23, the Irish won its 1973 national championship with Clements as quarterback.

Clements went on to play professionally in the Canadian Football League. He returned to Notre Dame as a quarterbacks coach in 1992 before proceeding to coach for the NFL. 

Clements said he was always able to maintain his composure as a player and as a coach thanks to his preparation.

“If you gave a 100 percent during the game, everything was going to work out, and if it didn’t it just wasn’t your day,” he said. “If you don’t win the play, figure out why you didn’t win and try to adjust for the next play. … Every guy has an individual battle.”

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