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Irish travel east for weekend invitationals

Notre Dame fencing is back for a series of challenging meets to close out January. After a long winter break, some fencers returned to the 2023 USA Fencing North American Cup (NAC), where they proved that they were not rusty coming out of the holiday. Nine Irish fencers earned top-ten spots across six events. This included graduate student sabre Jared Smith, who tied for third in men’s sabre, and freshman epee Sedna Gandhi, who tied for third in the juniors women’s epee. 

However, Notre Dame’s season has really just begun, and their two upcoming tournaments will be the test for the rest of the season. 

Coming up next is the St. John’s Invitational in Queens, NY on January 21. Elite teams from all over the country will be attending and hoping to come out on top. While Notre Dame has shown the ability to compete at a high level, this invitational will be a litmus test for the remainder of the season, and eventually the NCAA tournament. Assistant sabre coach Christian Rascioni touched on the importance that this initial invitational will have on the rest of the season. 

“It definitely is the biggest meet of the season, it is a very good test before NCAAs,” Rascioni said, “It’s a moment [where] we can face them and fence the best schools, the best programs: Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Penn State [and] Ohio State.” 

The Irish are currently ranked first in the men’s division and are followed by Columbia, Ohio State, Harvard, Princeton and Penn State respectively. On the women’s end, Notre Dame is currently ranked second, with just Princeton ahead of them. Each school will be coming into the competition looking to take those top spots. It is up to the Irish to maintain their prestige. However, Rascioni is confident in his team and said that they have been training all week for this weekend. 

The last time the Irish faced the Tigers, the women got away with a 17-10 victory while the men edged out a 14-13 win.

“The key is the stress,” Rascioni said on how to face teams of this caliber. “It’s always how can we manage the stress, especially these close bouts and fencing stronger people and fencers. It’s very important to be able to close the bout if you are leading and to not give up the bout if you are down.” 

After the St. John’s invitational, many of the same teams will travel to Penn State, where the Irish will again match up against the toughest competition in the division. 

While Notre Dame has a stacked roster, they must rely on some of their most influential fencers to carry them through those close bouts. 

Smith has proven to be a consistent fencer for the Irish, and as the season progresses, he looks to continue his streak. 

“[Jared’s] doing a great job. Besides college fencing he’s doing really well nationally,” Rascioni said of Smith. “He was second and third in two North American cups and he qualified to make the national team … he has a very good momentum and we are hoping to keep this momentum for all the season.” 

In the Elite Invitational at Penn, Smith won every single bout, proving crucial for the Irish.

On the women’s side, junior epee Kaylin Sin Yan Hsieh is continuing to thrive after her undefeated sophomore season. 

“I think the biggest challenge for her is going to be the consistency and the ability to keep the same level she was fencing in the past seasons,” Rascioni said. “She’s doing really well and she’s definitely on the right path to do it, but it is going to be the most difficult thing just to handle the pressure to stay always there.” 

Throughout the season so far, Sin Yan Hsieh is dealing with the pressure just fine, as she also went undefeated in the Elite Invitational. 

While these veteran players will surely make their mark on the upcoming season, freshmen foil Chase Emmer and epee Eszter Muhari are both proving themselves as fierce competitors. 

“He has already made the senior team. He was a bronze medalist in team in the last senior World Championships,” Rascioni said on Emmer. “He’s a freshman and of course it is not easy, even for such a good fencer like him, to jump into college fencing. It’s a completely different environment, and he’s still adjusting. But definitely, he’s gonna be a great replacement for our fencers who graduated last year.” 

Rascioni also complimented Muhari, calling her one of the best in the world. He noted that similar to Emmer, being a freshman comes with a laundry list of issues. However, Rascioni is confident that his freshman will make a big splash. 

Even with a talented roster, the Irish have a tough schedule ahead of them. However, Rascioni is not worried. 

“They are a very consistent group, the dynamics are very strong. Even inside a squad, which is the most important thing,” Racioni said. “And really, there is great team spirit that is probably what makes a difference in such the hard bouts.” 

Notre Dame travels to Queens, NY, to play in the St. John’s Invitational on January 21. They then head to Penn to compete at the Philadelphia Invitational on January 22.

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu.