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‘She was on a mission’: Kaylin Hsieh’s march to an individual title

| Monday, March 28, 2022

“After her semifinal, we watched the second bout just to plan a little bit. I started to make some comments about who she’d like to fence and then she stopped and said ‘it doesn’t matter, I’m on a mission’,” said Notre Dame epee coach Cedric Loiseau.

For Kaylin Hsieh, the individual women’s epee champion and Notre Dame’s only individual champion in a team title-winning effort this year, there was no other option. She just wanted it too much.

“I just really wanted that title. I was one step away from being done with the whole college season and I really wanted to just have a great finish,” said Hsieh.

For the junior, it represented the culmination of a yearlong journey that began on that same NCAA championship strip. Last year, she made it to the epee final against LIU’s Laura Fekete. There, she lost a heartbreaker, 14-13 in overtime. Her entire season came down to one touch and it didn’t go her way.

“From the final bout last year with Laura from LIU, I’ve learned to be more calm when I fence. I tend to be very hotheaded and when that happens I tend to lose touches,” Hsieh noted. “So, I’ve learned to be more mature in terms of my fencing style, to be more patient and seeing my way through the time so it translates into better scoring.”

Right from the start, that new approach was apparent as she won a one-touch bout against her teammate Amanda Pirkowski to kick off her NCAA Championship bid. From there, she was the most dominant female fencer in the championships winning 21 of her 23 bouts in pool play, three more than the next best epeeists. She out-touched her opponents by 43 touches, an imposing margin and 18 better than her closest competitor.

Ryan Vigilante | The Observer
Kaylin Hsieh celebrates her semifinal victory at the NCAA Fencing Championships on Friday afternoon

Her first semifinal was a rematch of the last year’s final against Fekete and a chance for Hsieh to get revenge for the championship loss. She did so in style, overcoming some early adversity to pull away in the third period of the bout and win 15-10.

“The major thing I’ve learned is it’s okay to lose. Losing doesn’t mean anything, either you move forward and you learned from the mistake that you made or you let that mistake define you,” said Hsieh

This renewed attitude was apparent in the final where nothing could shake her. Harvard’s Emily Vermeule took an early lead, but it wasn’t enough to shake Hsieh who brought it back to lead at the first break. Then came a different kind of challenge when her opponent fell on the strip, requiring medical assistance. Despite a lengthy break, Hsieh remained unshaken, maintaining her focus and sticking to the game plan. After the stoppage, she came out on fire to take the win, 15-10 over Vermeule.

“She was so consistent. What she did is absolutely amazing, the type of things that the best fencers in our program history do. It’s absolutely unreal. She won the championship. She wanted it, she proved it. It’s just incredible.” said Loiseau.

Hsieh broke down in tears following her victory, taking off her mask before going over to embrace her coach at the end of the strip. She later said that at that moment she got the final touch many things went through her mind. Thoughts of her loss last year, but also of all the hard work that went into reaching this point filled her head.

“Fencing is cruel, sports is cruel. You either win or you lose. But either way what matters is what you do for the next step. How you reach those small goals that let you get to your end goal.” said Hsieh.

Ultimately, it wasn’t surprising to head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia.

“She was on a mission. Last year she fell short,” he said. “Everything was geared for her to prove to everyone that with a fuller field, that she was competitive and good enough to win the competition. A great game plan. The coaches were incredible with her development this year. The world cup circuit, two national competitions, two collegiate events. It culminated in an NCAA championship which I am absolutely not surprised about.”

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