CLEVELAND — A pair of championship-caliber performances in men’s foil highlighted the day for the University of Notre Dame fencing program Friday at at the National Collegiate Fencing Championships, as the Irish completed the second day of competition at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University.
Sophomore Nick Itkin and senior Axel Kiefer finished as the nation’s top two collegiate foilists, as Itkin captured his second straight national title and Kiefer recorded his best collegiate finish.
After five complete rounds of men’s competition, the Irish moved into third place ahead of Harvard, but with 78 points remain 12 behind leading Columbia (90). Itkin and Kiefer each went 7-1 in pools on the day to finish 19-4 each in the tournament.
How It Happened
The Irish guaranteed themselves a men’s foil national championship for the second straight season as both Itkin and Kiefer advanced to the championship bout after impressive performances all weekend.
In the first semifinal, Itkin faced Harvard’s Geoffrey Tourette, to whom he’d dropped a 5-4 decision during the fourth round. Itkin jumped out to a 10-5 lead less than two minutes into the semifinal bout, though Tourette pulled within 13-10 after a period. Itkin got the touches he needed, however, and picked up the 15-11 victory to advance to the championship.
Kiefer faced a bigger hurdle in his own semifinal bout against Columbia’s Sidarth Kumbla, falling behind 8-4 after the first period and 12-6 late in the second, before recording three straight touches to pull within 12-9 at the second intermission. Kiefer picked up that momentum in the final period — which included a Kumbla touch call awarded to Kiefer on a challenge — outscoring his opponent 6-1 to advance to the final in a 15-13 victory.
Itkin and Kiefer traded the first several touches to open the final, but Itkin pulled away at 8-6 and never looked back. His 15-6 victory gave him his second straight national title, making him the first back-to-back champion in men’s foil since Ohio State’s Andras Horanyi in 2007 and 2008.
Kiefer’s runner-up finish was the highest of his career, having twice captured bronze as a freshman and junior. He also earned his fourth All-America citation, becoming the program’s 29th four-time All-American.
The men’s foil duo continued their dominance in Friday’s final two rounds of pools, each posting 7-1 records on the day and finishing with matching 19-4 marks. Itkin took the top seed by virtue of his +57 indicator, while Kiefer earned the No. 2 seed and a +47.
The 19 wins were career highs for both foilists. In each of his first three seasons with the Irish, Kiefer tallied 15 wins. Last season, Itkin won 18 round-robin bouts in a 23-fencer field after a medical withdrawal narrowed the field
Junior Ariel Simmons bounced back from a slow start Thursday, helping keep the Irish in striking distance with a 6-2 record in the final two rounds. Simmons finished with a 12-11 mark and placed 11th, climbing five spots from day one. Sophomore Stephen Ewart finished in 21st place at 9-14.
Alessandro Contreras finished the tournament with a 10-13 record in a 15th place finish, while Arsenii Panteleev went 9-14 and placed 20th.
What They Said
Men’s foil national champion Nick Itkin
On repeating as national champion…
“The first time was a lot less pressure. Coming back, there’s an extra chip on the shoulder because last year I won, so everyone’s going to be expecting me to do the same. At the beginning was tough for me to fence, but I started finding my groove, thinking about fencing and not trying to prove anything. I liked the way I fenced and I’m back in first place.”
On facing teammate Axel Kiefer in the championship…
“So much credit to Axel. He fenced an amazing tournament, beat a really good fencer in the semifinal in an incredible bout. He’s a senior and I’ve learned so much from him and it was incredible to be able to fence him in the finals. I have so much respect for him and I think it was a great way for him to finish his college career.”
National Collegiate Fencing Championships
March 21-24, 2019
Wolstein Center | Cleveland State
Men’s Competition (March 21-22)
11. Ariel Simmons, 12-11 (+4)
21. Stephen Ewart, 9-14 (-15)
1. Nick Itkin 19-4 (+57)*
2. Axel Kiefer 19-4 (+47)*
15. Alessandro Contreras 10-13 (-16)
20. Arsenii Panteleev 9-14 (-30)
* First Team All-American
1. Columbia 90
2. Penn State 84
3. Notre Dame 78
4. Harvard 72
5. Ohio State 69
The women’s half of the tournament will begin Saturday, with epee opening the day at 9 a.m. ET, followed by foil at 11 a.m. and sabre at 1 p.m., with the first three rounds of each. Live scoring will be available during the round robins. For up-to-date information on the Irish, follow the team on Twitter @NDFencing.