March 21, 2016

Note: This is the first 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 Kathy Minko

A freshman environmental science major, Sabrina Massialas is a foilist for the Notre Dame women’s fencing team. Massialas resides in San Francisco, California, where she, her brother and her father fence avidly. The whale-lover has competed internationally for fencing and has won awards for other athletic teams as well. Massialas, who won this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference women’s foil championship, will compete in her first NCAA Championships this weekend at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

You were a volleyball captain and tournament MVP in high school, so obviously much success there, even though you’re just as good at this sport. With that said, though, what made you pursue fencing? What about it do you love?

Well, my dad [Gregory Massialas] is a three-time Olympian in fencing, so I grew up with the sport. My brother went into it, naturally because he saw my dad and his success, and then I saw both my brother and my dad doing it, so I just naturally wanted to do it myself as well. My brother and I are very sporty people, so we’ve always liked other sports. He played basketball, and I played volleyball. We just started off with fencing and loved it the most, so that’s been our consistent thing, and along the way, we played some other sports as well.

Massialas, right, fences teammate Elyssa Kleiner for the ACC women's foil championship last month.

Massialas, right, fences teammate Elyssa.Kleiner for the ACC women’s foil championship last month.

Do you miss having those other sports in your life, too?

I miss volleyball so much. It was a lot of fun. I played for about eight years, so it was a big part of my life, and I really miss it. The other day we went to Rolf’s to play, and I had so much fun! But, I knew that after my senior year, I’d have to be committed to fencing, and I accepted that.

Favorite part about your event (foil):

I like that it’s a balance between the other two weapons. Epee is kind of slow because it’s patient fencing, sabre is the opposite – super fast paced – and foil is more like taking your time while also getting a lot of action. I’d say that it’s a good balance between the two. It’s usually the weapon that people start in because it’s easy to diverge into something else. I just like that it’s a balance.

Have you always done that event?

Yeah, my dad was a foil fencer and my brother is, too. My dad has his own fencing club [the Massialas Foundation], and it’s all foil.

Your family holds a strong connection with fencing. What’s it like being away from them now? How have they helped you this year?

It’s super different because I grew up with my dad as my coach. Being away from him and not going to practice with him and not taking lessons with him everyday has been a really different experience. I think my experience growing up has culminated to this part of my life so that I can now continue my fencing and be successful with the coaching here. I can take everything I’ve learned from him and bring it here and apply it to my fencing now. He also checks up with how I’m doing occasionally or I’ll see him at a couple of tournaments or international events that he’s also coincidentally going to, so he’ll coach me there.

What kind of music do you listen to before meets?

It depends on how I feel. Sometimes, I need super intense, gonna-go-out-and-kill-people songs. Other times, I need to just jump around with dancing music or electro/techno music. It just depends on how I feel! Whatever I need to get myself pumped up in the moment.

Never country?

Sometimes! Country is my guilty pleasure, except not really guilty because I’ll admit it to anyone. But maybe I’ll use it for pre-pregame music, like when I wake up and need to get into the groove of things. When I warm up, though, I do need something a little more intense.

Funniest thing you’ve ever done with your team?

I know that for all of our birthdays, the freshmen have caked each other. I was the first birthday and didn’t get caked because I was the first girl, and they took it easy on me. But, on your birthday you better watch out.

What’s the first thing you’d do if no one was looking?

I’d probably dance. I get made fun of a lot for my dancing. Taylor Swift once said that she looks like a baby giraffe trying to stand, and I can really relate to that. I’m just kind of lanky, so it looks weird when I dance, but if no one’s watching, I can do whatever I want. Also, I’d eat. People don’t really know how much I eat. It’ll be a little secret, you know? I mean, they know I can eat a lot, but they don’t realize the extent.

If you could stay a certain age forever, which would it be and why?

Well I don’t really know because I haven’t been every age, but so far, I guess being a kid is the best, right? You have no cares in the world, so I try to relive that sometimes, but it doesn’t really work out when you have school work. I’d say not so young that you’re a total brat when you’re a kid, but not old enough so that you’re stressed about things. Maybe about nine years old? I really liked fourth grade.

If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?

I’m always torn between flying and being able to breathe underwater and communicate with fish. I think I’m leaning more toward the fish thing because I’m super into marine bio, and I love whales. If I could talk to whales, that would be my dream come true, and if I could breathe underwater that would be awesome.

If you wrote an autobiography of your life, what would you title it?

I don’t know. That’s probably what I’d call it, actually! Plus, I don’t know what’s going to happen in my life, so it’s a metaphor, too. And at the same time, it’s truthful.

What’s the strangest thing about your team?

I’d say that we’re all just pretty strange. I hear that people think the fencing team is weird, and at first I thought that wasn’t a very nice thing to say, and then I realized that it’s actually true. We’re a bunch of weirdos. If there was a camera in any of the locker rooms, people would be freaked out by how we act. I’d say that cohesively as a team, we’re all just a bunch of freaks, but it’s a bunch of great freaks, so it’s OK.

What’s your spirit animal?

Definitely a whale. Or a manatee. Manatees are just so fat, and they eat whatever they want, but nothing eats them. You could just eat all day, swimming around, no cares in the world.

What’s your favorite kind of whale?

The bowhead whale. It is not super common and has this super big, overarching mouth that just makes it look really derpy. It’s just the best whale. It’s also the fattest whale. It’d be the first underwater animal I talk to first.

Would you rather have the ability to live in an expensive, large mansion or to have a never-ending supply of plane tickets?

Plane tickets, for sure. Not that I’m huge on flying on planes, but I’d be able to travel wherever I wanted. There’s just so many places that I would love to visit. I’m not really big on mansions. I like the small, homey feeling. I grew up in an apartment basically my whole life, so I like the small-living life.

What food item could you not live without?

I have a major sweet tooth, so I could probably do anything, but I’ll pick cookies. I’m really big on classic chocolate chip or M&M. Those cookies at the dining hall are amazing. I swear I can’t go to the dining hall anymore because I’d become obese. No joke, I take three cookies first and then go back for more. I can never stop. For savory foods, I’d probably say mac and cheese. Then again, my dad makes a really good steak so that’s like my favorite thing, but if it’s just generic, I’d do mac and cheese. If we’re talking specifics, I’d choose my dad’s steak.