March 24, 2016

Note: This is the last in a series of four profiles of Notre Dame’s young fencing contingent, who will be competing this weekend at the NCAA Championships in Waltham, Massachusetts.

By Nick Beals ’18

Axel Kiefer of the Notre Dame men’s fencing team is a freshman from Lexington, Kentucky. He is currently enrolled in the First Year of Studies with plans to major in preprofessional studies. Kiefer was champion of the 2014 Junior World Cup while also winning first place at the Junior Olympics. Last month, Kiefer was crowned the Most Valuable Fencer at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships after winning the individual men’s foil title and helping the Irish to their second straight ACC team title. He went on to win the regional title at the NCAA Midwest Regional and will represent the Irish at this weekend’s NCAA Championships.

What is your dream vacation?

I’m pretty satisfied with going to Kiawah (South Carolina). That’s where my family likes to go.

What is your favorite food?

There’s this meal that my dad cooks. My dad doesn’t cook, but he does cook this one meal. It’s called shish tawook. It’s like a garlic chicken in pita bread. It’s delicious.

When did you begin fencing and why?

I was seven years old. My dad (Steve Kiefer) fenced in college. He went to Duke. Both of my sisters (Alex and Lee Kiefer) picked it up when they were younger, so that’s how I started.

Kiefer celebrates a touch during the championship foil bout at last month's ACC Championships.

Kiefer celebrates a touch during the championship foil bout at last month’s ACC Championships.

How have they influenced your fencing career so far?

I look up to my sisters with a lot of things. They help me stay focused and motivated. I would not be here today if it wasn’t for both of them.

You won the gold medal at the Udine Junior World Cup in Italy (2014). What was that experience like?

It was very exciting. That was the first season I had moved into that age group, so there weren’t very many expectations for me to do well. The fact that I was able to do well and win an event was honestly shocking.

What was it like to represent the United States?

It feels good to have that flag raised when you win. It feels good to be able to represent your country, especially when you do well.

What has been your favorite place to travel to during your fencing career and why?

Barcelona, Spain. Normally when we go to tournaments, we don’t have time to sightsee because we’ll get there and fence the next day and come back. That trip I was able to get there a few days early. I got to do a lot of sightseeing and saw La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. That was a lot of fun.

What is your favorite fencing accomplishment?

Earlier this season, there was a North American Cup (Div 1). I did really well and beat some highly-ranked fencers.

Why did you choose to attend Notre Dame?

Notre Dame had the best student-athlete support system, and I felt at home here. I’ve gone up to Notre Dame for a football game once every year for the past seven years. I’ve been here a bunch, and it felt like the right place to go.

What was it like to come in to Notre Dame and contribute so much to the team as a freshman?

It feels good. One of my favorite parts about collegiate fencing is just having the team behind you. You want to win bouts for your team. The feeling of your whole team cheering for you is unlike any other feeling. That’s why I do it.

How has your transition been to Notre Dame?

For schoolwork, I feel like I’ve transitioned pretty well. I went to a [high school] program that focused on math, science and technology, and I’m going into preprofessional studies. I feel like I’m pretty prepared for that. As far as fencing, the training schedule is very different, but overall it’s been beneficial to my fencing. I’m getting better.

What’s your favorite class?

Organic [Chemistry]. It’s definitely not my easiest. It’s probably my hardest class, but I think it’s very interesting.

What’s your favorite part about Notre Dame?

The fencing team. We’re very close, and it’s a great atmosphere. I feel comfortable talking to anyone on the team and the coaches. We spend a lot of time with each other.