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Sirico battles through injuries to make mark on fencing program

| Friday, May 15, 2020

Fencing has always run in the family for Notre Dame graduate student Amanda Sirico.

“My parents met during RecSports fencing at the University of Texas at El Paso,” Sirico said. “My dad actually recruited my mom to the fencing team. My younger siblings both fence, and I’ve been fencing basically since I could walk.”

The long-standing fencing tradition in Sirico’s family made itself evident throughout her Notre Dame career, and in her final season with the Irish, she was named The Observer’s Notre Dame Female Athlete of the Year.

Notre Dame’s prestigious fencing program was a big reason for Sirico’s college choice, as the Irish have claimed six national championships since the men’s and women’s titles were combined in 1990.

“I was looking at Ohio State and Notre Dame, but I ended up only applying to Notre Dame because I loved the campus so much” Sirico said. “It became my first choice pretty quickly.”

Although her last season with Notre Dame was a tough one, as Sirico, a three-time top-three finisher at the NCAA Tournaments, battled several injuries, including surgeries on both her arms in the past year, to accumulate a 22-9 record with the epee, one of the three swords used in collegiate fencing. Sirico put up several strong performances, but her experience and leadership of this young team was invaluable for the Irish, who finished No. 3 in the shortened season.

Erin Fennessy | The Observer
Irish graduate student epeeist Amanda Sirico competes at the ACC Championships on Feb. 23, 2020.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented Notre Dame from seeking a third national title in four years, Sirico, despite her injuries, qualified for the NCAAs for a fourth straight season. Despite having competed with Team USA, Sirico said she prefers the intensity of the collegiate atmosphere.

“NCAA fencing is so crazy, and it’s really hard because you fight all year, and then it comes down to just two days of competing. It’s really intense, and there’s not much room for failure. … You’re an individual on a team, so you’re fencing for yourself and for your team.”

This year, fencing for her team took on a new meaning with the injuries that plagued her fourth and final campaign with the Irish. As a captain, Sirico dealt with the challenges of leading a very young but talented team.

“Being a leader, you think it’s going to be so fun and you’re in charge, and then you realize, ‘Oh, I’m in charge,’” she said. “It’s hard to get them to learn what you’ve learned by experience. A lot of them hadn’t experienced failure. Being a leader is fun but hard. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

With national titles in 2017 and 2018, Notre Dame certainly hadn’t experienced a lot of failure, and while they managed to stay among the elite teams in the 2019-2020, they had to battle for their spot. Sirico went 9-4 at the Elite Invitational in November, leading the women’s squad to a 4-1 score. She went 5-1 in tough wins over Cornell and Penn, proving to be invaluable to her team, even when she wasn’t operating at 100% health.

The Irish women went just 3-2 at both the St. Johns and Philadelphia Invitationals. The margin for error was thinner than usual, but Sirico stepped up frequently late in the season. The Irish absolutely dominated ACC play, sweeping the DeCicco, Northwestern and Duke Duals. The DeCicco Duals are Notre Dame’s home meet, and although injuries prevented Sirico from competing this year, fencing on campus has always been enjoyable for the Irish captain.

“It’s a ton of fun. I feel like we sell the fencing team well. We get to engage with the student body and get to show them our sport, especially because it’s a more niche sport. Not only is the commute nice, the community is really nice,” Sirico said of the environment surrounding their home tournament.

Despite being unable to compete in the 2020 DeCicco Duals, Sirico has a good history with the tournament, as she won the clinching point for Notre Dame in a 14-13 victory over Northwestern in her sophomore year. Thankfully for Sirico, she would get another chance to compete on campus, as Notre Dame hosted the ACC Championships. As the Irish bulldozed their way to a title, Sirico didn’t compete for individual honors, but she stepped in for a match-up against Duke, gutting out a big win for the Irish to contribute to their team title. 

She then was able to compete individually at the Midwest Regional Championships. Since going 9-4 at the Elite Invitational, Sirico had only competed in two bouts, and with an 11-4 record on the year, rust would have been understandable, even expected, out of Notre Dame’s captain. However, she put together an admirable performance, going 11-5 to finish fourth and receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs, which were cancelled.

That put an impressive cap on a stellar career for Sirico, who finished third, third and second in three NCAA Tournament appearances, and she appeared to be primed to rally and challenge for another top finish at the NCAAs this season.

After Notre Dame’s string of two straight national titles was broken in the spring of 2019, Sirico had the Irish firmly back in the conversation, with several underclassmen having breakthrough performances. One fellow epeeist Miriam Grady, who fell short to Sirico in last season’s Midwest Regionals, won the ACC Championships and Midwest Regionals in 2020, posting a 52 wins, 21 more than her freshman season. As a team, Notre Dame qualified the maximum 12 fencers for the NCAA Tournament.

“These past two years, I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries, so I ended up having to take this year off from the national team,” Sirico said, “But it was really cool to focus on this team and the NCAAs. It’s sad we didn’t get to compete for championships, but it was a great season.”

Sirico will be heading to the Wake Forest University School of Business, where she will work towards attaining her Masters in Science. 

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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