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Notre Dame returns for spring season by heading to New York, Philadelphia

| Friday, January 18, 2019

Notre Dame will be joining a pool of elite competition as it travels east this weekend for the St. John’s Invitational on Saturday, followed immediately by the Philadelphia Invitational hosted by the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday. The No. 3 Irish will be among some of the best teams in the country this weekend, with all six teams competing in Queens ranking among the top nine.

After winning back-to-back national championships, head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia has kept his team focused throughout the first half of the season, winning its first competition of the season back in November, beating five teams including the host, Ohio State, and Penn State, both of whom it will expect to face off against this weekend. For this experienced unit, this weekend is just another on a long list of dates leading up to defending its title.

Midway through the season, the Irish women have been led by senior epeeist Amanda Sirico, junior foilists Morgan Partridge and Samantha Viquiera and sophomore foilist Stefani Deschner. Additionally, rookies Kara Linder and Miriam Grady have proved useful in the team’s quest to three-peat in sabre and epee, respectively.

On the men’s side of the competition, the Irish have been following the lead of senior foilist Axel Kiefer, a two-time All-American and eighth-place finisher at last year’s NCAA championships. Meanwhile, foilist Nick Itkin has continued his streak of dominance after being named the individual national champion in his weapon last season. The sophomore posted a 14-1 mark in Columbus, Ohio, with his lone loss coming in one round against Penn.

Itkin and Keifer both recently competed at the January North American Cup in Charlotte, North Carolina. After losing narrowly in the semifinals, Itkin went on to clinch bronze, beating Italian foilists Alessio Foconi and Daniele Garozzo, a World champion and Olympic gold medalist, respectively.

The St. John’s Invitational features some of the most historic programs in the sport — St. John’s, Columbia, Harvard, Ohio State and Penn State — accounting for all but one of the NCAA championships since the sport became co-ed 29 years ago. Despite having comfortably defeated the second-place-finishing Lions, the Irish are likely in for a challenge this weekend, with all five teams that made up last year’s top-five at nationals expected to compete.

Regardless of the results of Saturday’s competition, Kvaratskhelia’s team will certainly be put to the test with such a quick turnaround, appearing in Philadelphia fewer than 24 hours later. Last season, Columbia and Penn State both competed in the Philadelphia Invitational along with the host, No. 4 Penn.

After returning from New York and Philadelphia, Notre Dame will prepare to host its own weekend of duels at the Castellan Family Fencing Center. The sixth-annual DeCicco Duals will take place next weekend, followed by the Northwestern Duals in Evanston, Illinois. That will conclude the regular season before athletes will be selected to compete at the ACC championships in hopes of qualifying for the NCAA championships in March.

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