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On top of the world: Irish clinch 12th national championship

| Monday, March 28, 2022

After the women’s team gave Notre Dame fencing a 12-point lead after two days, the men’s program brought it home. They extended the lead each day, and they clinched the title on Sunday morning.

Day 3 Recap: Irish ward off slow start, extend lead

Men’s pool play in the NCAA Fencing Tournament began Saturday at the Castellan Family Fencing Center and it saw Notre Dame extend their lead atop the standings. They came into the day with a 12-bout lead ahead of Princeton and they go into the night with a 17-bout lead on second-place Columbia.

“The girls gave us a huge advantage by having a lead in the first few days,” said sophomore sabre Luke Linder, “It’s a little more relaxing, you know, the first day with zeros all across the board. There’s a little more pressure so you have to give respect to the girls for just being brave and going out there, doing their work and putting in a 12-bout lead for us. It was huge to take some stress off us.”

Linder began his attempt to defend his individual title in men’s sabre from last year. He finished 10-5 on the day. He sits in sixth overall just ahead of his teammate, senior Jared Smith (9-6) in seventh place. Linder had an up-and-down day, beginning with a 4-3 first round before winning six straight bouts. However, his day ended with two frustrating losses against Harvard.

“There was a couple of bouts I lost that I felt like I shouldn’t have lost. I didn‘t feel like I was fencing to the greatest of my potential. So, in the second round, we came back and tried to fix some things. And then my teammate and I both went 4-0, so we adjusted. There were just some simple things I needed to fix.” said Linder.

Foil, Epee overcome slow starts

In the foil, it was a similar story as two-time national champion Nick Itkin got off to a difficult start, going 2-4 to start the day. “The problem with my fencing early in the day was just mentally, it really wasn‘t like they were playing me,” said Itkin. “I think I just wasn‘t there mentally, and my fencing showed that. I wasn‘t fencing to my fullest ability.”

He fully turned it around though, winning his final nine bouts of the day. Itkin finished at 11-4 and in fourth place in the individual. Itkin‘s fellow foilist, senior Andrew Machovec, had a similarly inconsistent start before settling into the competition to finish 8-7 on the day and in ninth place.

“I‘m just going to come out strong tomorrow. I can‘t come out the way I came out today. So, I’m going to rest, relax tonight and come out more prepared than I did today,” said Itkin.

In the epee, junior Hunter Candreva (8-7) and senior Stephen Ewart (7-8) combined for 15 more points to Notre Dame’s team total. For Candreva, it was a tale of two halves. After a 1-6 start in his first-ever NCAA Championships, he turned it around to take the second half 7-1. That included four straight wins to close out the day.

“It took me a second to figure out what‘s working and what‘s not working. To maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses. Took me a little bit, but I was able to catch on.” said Candreva, “I was able to take my losses and learn from them.”

The Irish took a 17-bout lead into the final day of competition at 155 points, ahead of Columbia’s 138. Harvard and Princeton stood close behind at 137 and 134, respectively. With 48 total bouts left per team, the magic number sat at 32 for Notre Dame.

“Today was statistically the hardest for us. We fenced all the guys with the best rankings,” Linder said. “So, tomorrow we just have to keep the same mentality, the same focus and not let up and finish strong.”

Gracie Lee | The Observer
Notre Dame celebrates the NCAA Fencing National Championship on Sunday afternoon

Day 4 Recap: Irish bring it home

Notre Dame claimed their 12th national championship in fencing Sunday as they successfully defended their title at home. In the end, senior sabre Jared Smith clinched it with a win over Stanford’s Donghwan Park in the fifth round. Individually, Notre Dame also claimed three medals with Kaylin Hsieh picking up gold in women’s epee. Amita Berthier and Atara Greenbaum won silver in foil and sabre respectively.

“With a tournament like this, it’s never going to be a smooth ride. But throughout the year, we’ve shown that consistency. At dual meets, at the ACCs, and it’s continued at the highest level when we needed it.” said head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia.

Notre Dame won by a comfortable margin. They scored 189 points to get the win over Harvard and Columbia, who both finished with 168 points. The women’s team buoyed Notre Dame’s total with a stellar 102-point performance. Of Notre Dame’s 12 fencers this weekend, 11 finished in the top eight of their respective weapons. It was an impressive wire-to-wire victory for Notre Dame against a full Due to COIVD, many of the powerhouse Ivy League schools didn’t compete last year.

“The biggest thing that we experienced was everyone telling us that we won a fake championship, that it was a fake ring. This year, we came out and proved to everyone in this country that we are the team to beat. And there is nobody from day one to day four that could beat our lead. We were there every single step of the way proving that we were the ones who are the champions.” said senior foil Andrew Machovec.

Notre Dame entered the final day of competition needing 32 bouts to clinch the team title, but they also had six individuals still vying for a spot in the individual semifinals. They all ended up falling short of the semis, but with five of six fencers finishing in the top 8 of their respective weapons, the men did enough to win the team title.

“We proved it. We wanted to show everyone that our win last year wasn’t a fluke.  And we did. We had 189 wins which is incredible. All the Ivies were there, everybody was there. No one can come and say anything about us not deserving it. We earned it.” said epee coach Cedric Loiseau.

The foil seemed like Notre Dame’s best bet for a semifinal berth, especially with senior Nick Itkin who was in the third position after four rounds. He had won ten consecutive bouts to get to that position but then faltered in the final round. He lost the first three and despite a gritty come-from-behind 5-4 win in his final bout, it wasn’t enough. Itkin finished with a 15-8 record, good for sixth place.

Instead, it was his teammate, Machovec who finished strongest in the weapon. He won 10 straight bouts, including a perfect 8-0 Sunday to surge up the standings and finish with a 16-7 record. That tied him with the eventual champion, Columbia’s Ashton Daniel, but Daniel’s superior indicators put him into the semifinal ahead of Machovec, who settled for fifth.

The sabre and epee squads both went 11-5 during the final day of competition. Sabre saw both fencers finish with a 15-8 record. Smith and 2021 champion Luke Linder both finished outside of the semifinals in sixth and seventh, respectively. In epee, junior Hunter Candreva put up a 14-9 record in his first NCAA tournament to finish eighth and ahead of his teammate senior Stephen Ewart who finished eleventh with 12 wins.

Kvaratskhelia made sure to praise his entire team after the title triumph: “You have the twelve who competed, but you have fifty plus that supported them and pushed them to the next level. It’s not just one, it’s not just twelve, it’s all fifty or sixty.”

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