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Notre Dame dominates by recording clean sweep at ACC Championships

| Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The two-time defending national champions issued a mandate this past weekend, sweeping all six individual awards on their way to claim both the women’s and men’s ACC titles for the first time in program history.

After falling short of the conference title last year, with the women losing to North Carolina in a three-way tiebreaker and the men dropping to Duke, head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia’s team took care of business in Chestnut Hill, Mass., handling No. 6 Duke, North Carolina and the host, Boston College.

Kendra Osinski | The Observer
Irish senior sabre Blake Murphy competes during Notre Dame’s 7-0 win at the DeCicco Duals on Jan. 27 at the Castellan Family Fencing Center.

“It was apparent how focused and determined our athletes were while they were competing,” Kvaratskhelia said.

Their path to claiming all eight available gold medals — three in each weapon and one team title per gender — began early, with the men claiming the team title on Saturday. A 23-4 routing of Boston College was followed by a 21-6 beating of North Carolina. In the final round of competition, Notre Dame took on Duke in a clash of old rivals, as the Blue Devils bested the Irish 14-13 earlier in the season. However, this time Notre Dame asserted its dominance, jumping out to 10-1 lead and eventually clinching the 20-7 victory. The final point, coming from freshman foilist Andrew Machovec, set the tone for the weekend as the underclassmen held their own against conference foes.

Meanwhile, the women’s team qualified eight athletes to the semifinal rounds of the individual competition, three of which claimed the top seed. Once in the final rounds, the freshmen took over, two of which beat fellow Irish fencers to claim the individual title. Freshman Kara Linder topped Tar Heel junior Jackie Litynski in the sabre competition on her way to her first collegiate championship. She was joined atop the medal stand by classmates Miriam Grady and Amita Berthier in epee and foil, respectively.

“The entire team really performed at the highest level, but the freshmen in particular were fearless,” Kvaratskhelia said.

Despite freshmen claiming two out of three individual titles, Kvaratskhelia was sure to credit the upperclassmen and returning competitors for their guidance and support. He said the consistency of veterans like senior foilists Axel Keifer and Sabrina Massialas was one of the main reasons the team performed so well.

The victories continued into Sunday when the men eliminated the top seeds in all three weapons, leaving the door open for freshman Malcolm Fields and Nick Itkin and senior Dylan French to emerge on top in sabre, foil and epee, respectively. All three men capitalized on this position, ultimately claiming individual titles to complete the sweep on their side of the competition. However, these victories didn’t come without some inter-team competition. While Fields jumped out to a 6-0 lead and never looked back in his win over North Carolina senior Matthew Garrelick, Itkin bested senior teammate Axel Kiefer 15-5, while French fought to the title for his win over sophomore Stephen Ewart. After Ewart took a 10-6 lead, French clawed his way back into the fight and eventually tied things up at 12 before pulling out the 15-13 win to claim his first conference title since his freshman season. In addition to Itkin and Kiefer, Machovec added to his list of accolades, finishing third in the individual foil competition to complete the Irish sweep.

In the final event of the day, the women wasted no time, beating both Boston College and North Carolina 24-3, led by 3-0 performances by Massialas, junior foilist Morgan Partridge and sophomore epeeist Dasha Yefremenko against both teams. In a rematch of the men’s championship, Duke and Notre Dame returned to the mat, eager to escape with the win. Despite the back-and-forth that ensued throughout the first couple rounds, the Irish quickly broke out of a 5-4 deficit to earn 17-straight points on their way to the team championship.

This past weekend highlighted the greatest strength of Kvaratskhelia’s team — their well-roundedness.

“The reason we won the last two years was that every weapon pretty much gave the same production,”Kvaratskhelia said. “If that happens then we pretty much have a shot. … If you have a big discrepancy, a championship’s not going to come.”

This past weekend’s dominant performance will contribute to qualifying for the NCAA championship, with 40 percent being determined based on in-season performance, and the remaining 60 percent being Regional results. Notre Dame will host the Midwest Regional Championship next Saturday at Castellan Family Fencing Center.

“As of now, we have positioned ourselves pretty well [to qualify for the NCAAs], we just have to finish now,” Kvaratskhelia said.

With the postseason in full swing, Kvaratskhelia said his team’s biggest obstacle will be avoiding the pressure that comes along with the national championship, saying that they’re their own biggest obstacle.

“There’s a few teams out there, usual customers, who will be waiting for us,” Kvaratskhelia said. “They’re strong … but the biggest factor will be how we can handle ourselves. If we can resist the stress and the pressure and can deliver during the moment, we’ll be successful against anyone.”

The NCAA Midwest Regional Championship will begin at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

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