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Top-ranked Irish not content, determined to improve in final stretch of regular season

| Thursday, January 24, 2019

Notre Dame registered strong showings over the weekend as it participated in both the St. John’s Invitational in New York and the Philadelphia Invitational. Both the men’s and women’s teams produced a winning record at each event, with a combined 13-3 record over the whole weekend. Despite No.1 Notre Dame’s success, Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia believes his team can improve.

“The results were satisfactory,” Kvaratskhelia said of the weekend. “But we’re looking at the level of preparation for the deeper the season. So, as we are right now, we are pretty happy with the level of technical and physical preparation. We need to get better tactically, and emotionally.”

Runjie Pan | The Observer
Irish junior epeeist Zachary Zellar competes in a match during the Northwestern Duals hosted in the Castellan Family Fencing Center on Feb. 2

The two-time ACC Men’s and Women’s Coach of the Year said his team’s greatest struggle is the influx of youth after graduating some high caliber players.

“Theye’re different athletes. We’re younger. We graduated a few really leadership-quality seniors and replaced them with freshmen,” Kvaratskhelia said. “So, less experience, but the goals remain the same, [be the] best we can be for the end of the season.”

The Irish are not lacking in talent however, as there are still several strong upperclassmen that have contributed to the recent success, including junior and senior captains Ariel Simmons and Axel Kiefer, both All-Americans last season.

“Our senior class is very accomplished and experienced and learned from the previous generation,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Our captains are up to par to lead the team to the next level.”

Along with Simmons and Kiefer, another returning All-American is sophomore Nick Itkin, who won the men’s foil national championship as a freshman last year. Despite the talent at hand, the Irish have still faced struggles.

Kvaratskhelia says that the greatest challenge his teams have faced this season have been “youth [and] inexperience merging with an experienced group,” and injuries that have plagued the team. The coaching staff is being challenged by their rivals in recruiting as much as in competition.

“Every year is a different game,” Kvaratskhelia said of recruiting. “You have to really work to entice the great athletes to come join us. So, it’s up and down but we’re adapting to the new realities of recruiting every year.”

In fact, the Irish’s recent success (back-to-back national championships), has put a target on their back, and their rivals have stepped up their game in turn.

“Everyone recruits against us now. It’s been challenging, more than it was the year before or two years before,” Kvaratskhelia said. “[The] usual customers, Penn State, Ohio State, Columbia [and] all the Ivy League Schools are a potential threat.”

Kvaratskhelia, however, has kept his approach consistent in the face of adversity.

“Sharpening up every day. There’s no other mentality. When we get to the final segment of [the season], the qualifying events and ACC [championships], I will try to kick it to the next gear, but as of now [just] getting better,” he said.

Notre Dame is hosting the DeCicco duals this weekend, and Kvaratskhelia knows that the Irish are in “the final stretch starting this weekend.” But no matter the circumstances, Kvaratskhelia strives for his club to be prepared and compete, and is especially focused on qualifying his team for the ACC and national championships in February and March.

“We still have to qualify, that’s the most important [thing],” Kvaratskhelia said.

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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