Irish end regular season at Duke Duals against top competition
Hayden Adams | Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked women’s and No. 5-ranked men’s fencing teams competed in the Duke Duals this past weekend, with the women going 3-2 and the men continuing an unbeaten streak stretching back to the DeCicco Duals on Jan. 25 and 26.
“Both teams performed at a very high level,” Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said. “I felt that we achieved pretty much all of the objectives we had going into the weekend.”
The first day of competition on Saturday featured the men’s fencers. The Irish took on five opponents, defeating all of them by no closer a margin than five points.
They first took care of Brandeis by a score of 20-7 with an 8-1 edge in the foil weapon and 6-3 edges in both epee and sabre. They then took on No. 10 Duke, with Notre Dame defeating the hosts 17-10 behind another strong showing from the foil group, which went 7-2 against the Blue Devils.
After taking down the hosts, the Irish defeated Massachusetts Institute of Technology 19-8 before a rematch against No. 4 Penn State, who took down the men’s team 14-13 at the St. John’s meet in Jamaica, NY on Jan. 18.
In the first matchup against the Nittany Lions, the then-No. 2 Notre Dame men’s team got a big boost from their epee group, winning that category 8-1, but lost by the same margin in foil and were barely edged out 5-4 in sabre. This time around, against their final three opponents of the day, the sabre group stepped up.
“We got a huge boost from the men’s sabre and women’s foil squads this weekend,” Kvaratskhelia said. “But our entire team looked poised and determined. I have really liked how aggressive we were on the strip.”
The men’s sabre continued to get better as the day went on, going from 6-3 in the first two matches to 7-2 against MIT to 8-1 against Penn State, which allowed Notre Dame to get some revenge with a 16-11 victory over the Nittany Lions. A 9-0 sabre showing against Johns Hopkins completed a sweep of the competition for the Irish men that extends their undefeated streak to 25-0.
Kvaratskhelia gave his take on how the men’s team has gone from an 0-5 showing at St. Johns to one of the hottest units in the country.
“Our success has been a combination of developing our talent and having our full roster available for the first time this season,” he said, alluding to the return of several athletes from the World Championships in France earlier this year. “Our athletes are gaining the confidence that they can compete at any level, and they have been fearless in the last couple of weeks.”
The Irish women would showcase their talents the following day against slightly varied competition. They took on the same first four opponents as the men, defeating Brandeis 21-6, Duke 17-10 and MIT 23-4.
However, Notre Dame faltered a bit down the stretch, losing to No. 6 Penn State 15-12 and No. 5 Temple 14-13. The former loss was a rematch of the women’s 16-11 loss to Penn State at St. John’s, while the latter gave the Irish a chance to avenge their 18-9 loss to then-unranked Temple at the Philadelphia Invitational on Jan. 19.
In spite of the losses, the women’s foil squad performed admirably as Kvaratskhelia mentioned, posting a 7-2 record against both the Nittany Lions and Owls. However, the sabre and epee struggled against the tough competition and went 3-6 or worse against the final two opponents to seal Notre Dame’s fate.
“Not to make any excuses; we had the ability to win both matches,” Kvaratskhelia said. “But it didn’t help to miss five athletes due to injury or illness against two top teams such as Temple and Penn State. Our primary concern was to keep our team healthy for ACCs and Regionals.”
Even though the Irish women failed to get a victory in their final two matches and saw their own 25-match unbeaten streak come to an end, they still went 3-2 on the day and got to compare their progress to that of an early-season foe in the final meet of the regular season. Kvaratskhelia said that kind of opportunity is beneficial.
“It gives our coaches information to make effective changes in our lineup, and a chance to study our opponents after that first meeting,” he said.
While a program as vaunted as Notre Dame’s doesn’t settle for moral victories, such close finishes against the country’s other top programs, despite the absence of key talent, bode well for a team that, at the start of the year, was desperate for leadership.
“This year, leadership has come from unexpected places,” Kvaratskhelia said. “It’s a combination of our upperclassmen as well as from some surprising freshmen and sophomores.”
With the regular season in the rearview mirror, the Irish have two weeks to prepare before hosting the ACC Championships on Feb. 22 and 23.