March 18, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame fencing team left the Joyce Center late Tuesday afternoon towards a familiar destination: French Field House, on the campus of Ohio State, site of the 2008, ’11, ’12 and ’14 NCAA Championships. The Buckeyes also earned the bid to host the 2015 NCAA Championships, taking place this Thursday through Sunday, March 19-22nd. Notre Dame is one of two schools in the 2015 field to qualify the maximum allotment of 12 fencers (2 per weapon class) and stands in strong contention to make a run at the title.
“The field this year, there will not be any easy teams that we face,” Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia says. “No matter if they qualified seven or 12 competitors, we have to treat each team with the utmost respect and fight each bout to win. No one will hand us a title.”
Kvaratskhelia was honored Wednesday afternoon with the announcement that his peers had voted him ACC Men’s Fencing Coach of the Year. Several Irish fencers were also recognized as the ACC Fencer of the Year in their respective weapons classes as well. “This is such an incredible honor for our fencers and our program; we are so proud of everyone, and we hope to continue our success further this weekend to prove that we earned these awards,” Kvaratskhelia states.
Looking at a weapon-by-weapon breakdown, sabre – a crucial shortcoming for the Irish in 2014 – stands to be the wildcard for Notre Dame with four freshmen representing the blue and gold. In both epee and foil, three savvy veterans are joined by a fresh-faced first-timer for the Irish.
In women’s sabre, world No. 2 junior and 2015 Junior World Team member Francesca Russo is joined by longtime friend and fellow New Jersey native Claudia Kulmacz. Kulmacz finished the regular season with a 44-20 mark, placing third at the NCAA Midwest Regional. Russo finished her first season with a 45-12 log and came in second at the regional qualifier. In the men’s event, ACC Men’s Sabreist of the Year and ACC Champion Jonathan Fitzgerald is joined by 2015 Junior World team member and ACC men’s sabre runner-up Jonah Shainberg. Both tote near-identical season records, as Fitzgerald earned a 35-20 mark while Shainberg sports a 37-19 record. At the Midwest regionals, Shainberg finished second while Fitzgerald came in fourth.
Women’s co-captains Nicole Ameli and Ashley Severson will both be making their third and final NCAA appearances for the Irish. Ameli capped her senior season with a 47-22 mark, improving her career record to 184-81, and was crowned ACC women’s epee champion in the first-ever ACC women’s fencing championship. Ameli came in 11th place in 2012 and improved to eighth place in 2014. Severson earned a 45-12 log on the year, improving her career record to 170-39. She finished runner-up to Ameli at the ACC conference championship and shares ACC Women’s Epeeist of the Year honors with Boston College’s Olivia Adragna, who also qualified for the NCAAs. Severson finished fifth in 2012 and came in 10th at last year’s NCAA Championships.
On the men’s side, ACC Men’s Epeeist of the Year and weapon champion Garrett McGrath is a man on a mission: to earn his first NCAA title after coming in second in 2014. McGrath finished the 2015 season with a 48-20 record, improving his career mark to a impressive 138-50 overall record. He is joined by freshman Nicholas Hanahan who added strength to the largest weapon squad on the men’s team with his 44-25 season record. Hanahan came in 11th at the ACC conference championships, but looks to draw on his international experience to solidify Notre Dame’s chances in the team competition.
To no one’s surprise Lee Kiefer posted a perfect 16-0 mark at the Midwest regional qualifier to earn the No. 1 spot. Kiefer has been on a roll internationally this season, boasting no less than five titles and 11 top-10 finishes to her name. She enters the 2015 Championships as the two-time defending champion in women’s foil, and is currently ranked No. 3 in the world in senior open rankings after her sixth place finish in the Havana Foil Grand Prix last weekend. In addition to her international accolades, Kiefer dominated the ACC Women’s Fencing Championships – she helped the women’s team claim the team title, was crowned individual champion in foil, named team MVP, and was voted ACC Women’s Foilist of the Year by conference coaches. Kiefer is joined by four-time NCAA participant Madison Zeiss, who came in second to her Irish teammate in 2014. Zeiss also competed internationally this season, notably placing 31st at the Cancun Foil World Cup. In addition to her second place finish in ’14, Zeiss finished tied for third with Columbia’s Jackie Dubrovich in 2013 and placed eighth in 2012 as a freshman. She finished third at ACC Championships and sports a 32-10 regular season record in her final year of eligibility (104-31 career).
In men’s foil, 2011 NCAA champion Ariel DeSmet capped his final season with the Irish with a 30-12 regular season (123-30 career) record. DeSmet finished 10th at the 2013 NCAA Championships, and has provided a strong veteran experience in the wake of 2014 NCAA Champion Gerek Meinhardt’s loss. DeSmet finished second at the Midwest regional meet, and helped the Irish invaluably at the ACC Championships as he helped the men’s team win the team title en route to winning the men’s foil individual crown and being named MVP before being voted ACC Men’s Foilist of the Year by conference coaches. He is joined by first-time NCAA entrant Virgile Collineau, a French transfer student. In his first year with the Irish, Collineau etched a 26-12 record and won the ACC men’s foil title. A bit of a dark horse within the American collegiate fencing world, Collineau finished third at the Midwest regional meet.
The men’s competition begins Thursday morning at 8 a.m. ET, as each entrant will fence their way through five rounds of pool play between Thursday and Friday, with the top four fencers entering direct elimination semifinals Friday afternoon. Saturday morning the women’s competition begins, following the same pattern. Each individual bout victory earns one point for a team in the team competition, culminating Sunday with the women’s championships helping determine the combined team victor. Both the men’s and women’s semifinal and final weapon bouts will be aired on ESPN3 Friday and Sunday afternoon, with daily recaps of the action provided on und.com.
ACC Annual Awards Honorees:
ACC Men’s Coach of the Year: Gia Kvaratskhelia
ACC Men’s Epeeist: Garrett McGrath
ACC Men’s Foilist: Ariel DeSmet
ACC Co-Women’s Epeeist: Ashley Severson
ACC Women’s Foilist: Lee Kiefer