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Luke Linder aims to reclaim individual title, lead Irish

In 2021, then-freshman Luke Linder was the first Irish fencer to win the men’s sabre individual NCAA championship since 2000. The following season, Linder tore his labrum and rested for a large part of his sophomore season. He came back in time to go 15-8 and finish seventh at the national championships. Now, as a junior, Linder is healthy and ready to pick up where he left off. 

“You know, freshman year, I did win the individual title. Sophomore year, I tore my labrum and I was out for a pretty long time,” Linder said. “So this year, I am really trying to stay healthy so I can compete all season long. Give all I can for the team as well as reclaim the individual title… just so there is not a drop-off and [prove] I am still one of the best in the country.” 

Linder finished 12-4 in his freshman season and it was highly anticipated he would continue his success as a sophomore. Even with his injury, Linder went 25-2 on the season but did not compete in the ACC tournament. He came in second in NCAA regionals. 

Notre Dame fencing is back in action Saturday when the team travels to Philadelphia to play in the Elite Invitational at the University of Pennsylvania.

However, as the returning national champions, there is immense pressure for the Irish to do well in their opening match. 

“It’s incredibly important to show [up and win]. Last year we won and we don’t want things to be different this year. We want to show that we’re a dominant program and we’re here to stay and really, you know, come into this first meet and show everybody we picked off right where we left off,” Linder said. “If things are unfortunate and just don’t go our way, we’re definitely gonna get back [to South Bend] and make sure that next meet we’re gonna get back and kick the hell out of everybody.” 

Linder carries this pressure more than others on his team. As one of the best fencers in the country, Linder must prove himself as another contender. Despite being alone on the mat, Linder has the support of his teammates behind him, especially that of graduate student sabre Jared Smith, who Linder beat in 2020 to win the national championship. 

“We feed off of each other. It’s incredible, the chemistry is really amazing,” Linder said of his teammate. “We’ve known each other for a long time and we know what to say to each other if we’re getting a little confused or something is not going right. We’re right there to help one another.” 

When Linder was absent, Smith took home first place in the ACC tournament. This year, the two will be competing together again.  

“It’s something taken for granted — having your teammate back there that supports you all the way through – and just being a dog out there with you. It’s incredibly important.” Linder said. 

Smith is not the only teammate Linder has by his side. In 2021, Linder and his sister graduate student sabre Kara Linder became the first brother-sister duo to win individual titles in the same year. 

“It’s an incredible opportunity,” said Linder. “And just cementing that legacy of the brother-sister and having someone on the team who is a family member who loves you, who takes care of you and is there for you when you need it and vise-versa. There is nothing better than that. And the chemistry is right there and it is important.” 

The Linder duo look to recreate Luke’s freshman year, as the two head out together this season. While Kara Linder was unable to win last season, she did finish in 5th in the NCAA tournament, and helped bring the Irish home their national championship. 

As the Irish head out on their 2022-23 season, Linder will play an important role in the future success of the program. And despite the immense pressure on him and the team, he is ready for anything that is thrown at him. 

“It’s really the mentality — the mindset — coming here giving everything we can, knowing what this program is,” said Linder. “It’s not just about us, but leaving the legacy behind.”

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu.

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