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Notre Dame fencing claims 11th national championship

| Monday, March 29, 2021

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing teams claimed the national championship in dominant fashion on Sunday, March 28. The Irish beat competitors from 18 other teams, including host Penn State, en route to their second national championship in the last three years that the competition has been held. It is the 11th national championship in program history, bringing the fencing team level with the football program for the most in Notre Dame history.

The Irish claimed four out of the six individual championships, with two coming on the men’s side and two on the women’s side. Both the men’s sabre and men’s foil finals featured a matchup of two Notre Dame athletes, and at least one Notre Dame fencer finished in the top three of every event for both the men and women.

In the men’s bracket, sophomore Marcello Olivares beat junior teammate Andrew Machovec in the final to claim the foil championship. Olivares lost just three matches all weekend and entered the semifinals as the top seed in the foil bracket. He defeated Mahovec in the championship bout by a score of 15-3.

“Being able to come here was a big deal for me, I was definitely focused from the beginning, but it was one touch at a time. There’s a lot of bouts that we’re going through and everyone’s tired, so being able to take it one step at a time was a big moment,” Olivares said, looking back at the tournament and the year leading up to it. “Being able to flashback was crazy. All the practice that we put in, everything, all the impacts we had to go through, it was a big change for me.”

Allison Thornton | The Observer
Irish senior epee Dasha Yefremenko, left duels teammate junior Miriam Grady during the NCAA Regional Championships on Mar. 9, 2019 at Castellan Family Fencing Center.

The men’s sabre bracket also featured an all-Irish final, with freshman Luke Linder coming out on top 15-7 over junior teammate Jared Smith. Linder was dominant on his way to the championship as he also came into the semifinals as the top seed and finished the weekend with an impressive 21-2 record.

“To just know all the hard work we’ve put in this year — the grit, the spirit and practice every day — it paid off and it’s resulted in something,” Linder said. “Not just for me, but also my teammate. We came down and both of us number one and two, that’s a big feat.”

Notre Dame did have the opportunity to sweep all three of the men’s weapons, but junior Stephen Ewart fell in the epee championship bout to Ryan Griffiths of Penn State by a score of 15-10. Senior Ariel Simmons rounded out the men’s individual competitors with a fifth-place finish in the epee bracket.

On the women’s side, upperclassmen led the way for the Irish as senior Stefani Deschner and junior Kara Linder were crowned individual national champions. Deschner, who came into the semifinals as the third seed, beat Penn State’s Lodovica Bicego 15-9 in the final to win the foil bracket and finish the weekend with a 16-4 record. Bicego upset her teammate and top-seeded Samantha Catantan in the semifinals. Notre Dame sophomore Amita Berthier tied for third in foil to finish.

Linder, who is the sister of teammate and fellow national champion Luke, claimed the sabre championship behind a 15-4 upset victory over first seed Sky Miller of Northwestern. She finished the weekend with an 18-3 record.

The Notre Dame women also had a shot at sweeping all three weapons, but freshman Kaylin Hsieh fell just short in the epee championship bout, losing 14-13 to LIU’s Lauren Fekete in priority. Hsieh recently qualified for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, where she will be representing Hong Kong. Junior Miriam Grady also had a strong showing for the Irish in the epee competition, finishing tied for third after falling in the semifinals to eventual champion Fekete.

Notre Dame finished the tournament with 201 bouts won, the most ever by any team under the current championship format. This point total was a whopping 29 more than second-place finisher Penn State. The Irish also finished with an indicator — which is similar to goal differential in soccer — of +473, a reflection of the dominance they showed throughout the weekend. They did all of this without one of the team’s best fencers, sophomore foil competitor Nick Itkin, who was busy qualifying for the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. His absence, and the many complications the team has faced due to the pandemic, did little to hinder the team’s pursuit of the national championship.

“Ever since the start of this year we really buckled down, we were really focused from the beginning,” Olivares said of his team. “Being a part of the team atmosphere is great, we are always focused to the end goal, which is always to win.”

And winning is exactly what the fencing team has done. Since the hiring of head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia in 2014, the Irish have won three national championships. This brings their total to 11, equal with the football program. Notre Dame has been historically known as a football school, and for good reason, but if the fencing program continues its dominance of the sport, that reputation might have to change. And if the success of their underclassmen fencers this weekend is any indicator, the fencing team is not slowing down anytime soon.

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