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ND readies for pursuit of ACC championship

| Friday, February 22, 2019

Top-ranked Notre Dame will travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass, this weekend to compete for the ACC title against fellow conference rivals Boston College, Duke and North Carolina. The event — hosted by the Eagles — marks the beginning of postseason play for head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia’s program as the Irish begin their pursuit of a three-peat as national champions.

Kendra Osinski | The Observer
Irish freshman epee Austin Guo competes during the DeCicco Duals on Jan. 27 at the Castellan Family Fencing Center.

Kvaratskhelia said he has high expectations for his athletes.

“We would love to match the intensity of the expectations,” he said.

Despite sitting atop the standings, the Irish are not without competition, as they currently sit just one point ahead in the voting of the teams tied for second place — Columbia and Harvard. Beyond those top-three teams, there is a significant drop in competition, however, although No. 6 Duke has proven to be a formidable opponent in the past, having upset the Irish men last season to claim the conference title. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, North Carolina is not to be overlooked, having beat the Irish and the Blue Devils last season at the ACC Championships in a fence-off following a three-way tie.

“They’re strong, they’re fearless and we were the prime target last year and the year before,” Kvaratskhelia said of Notre Dame’s opponents. “Hopefully, this time we’ll be mentally better to hit the ground running and not take anything lightly.”

Although there are several returnees who are expected to make significant contributions for the Irish, including reigning national champion foilist Nick Itkin, Kvaratskhelia said he expects ACCs to be the first of its kind for the majority of his athletes, with many of them being freshman or first-timers to the championship stage.

“It’s a team of nine in each gender and we expect everyone who steps on the strip to be their best — we cannot really separate one from another,” Kvaratskhelia said.

Itkin, a sophomore, will be joined in the foil competition by freshman Andrew Machovec and classmate Joseph Marino, along with veteran senior Axel Kiefer. This lineup will likely pace the Irish, along with the women’s epee team that includes senior Amanda Sirico and sophomore Dasha Yefremenko, both of which competed at the NCAA Championships last year.

Kvaratskhelia hopes that his team will remain focused on their fundamentals and the task at hand, claiming that this weekend will come down to the team’s ability to pay attention to details.

“We usually stay the same course. We prepare every single day to the best of our ability, and let the process take care of itself,” Kvaratskhelia said. “When we get to the competition, hopefully we’ll learn something from last year in terms of lineups and strategic differences, but mentally, pretty much we’re the same.”

Although the chance to three-peat as national champions is enticing, Kvaratskhelia understands how each step is important to their ultimate goal. Following the conference championships, Notre Dame will host the Midwest Regional Championships to determine the qualifiers for the National Championship in Cleveland.

“We really have to get through this weekend … three separate goals we will have for this team. … ACC has no implications on how we’re going to do at the NCAAs,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Last year, we fell on our face in both events … morale was down, but we came back and smoked them. Three years ago, we won there by a landslide and didn’t make top-four [at the NCAA Championship].”

The ACC Championships will begin this Saturday at 8 a.m. and will continue through Sunday.

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