Feb. 26, 2017
By Joanne Norell
DURHAM, N.C. — The University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing teams left Cameron Indoor Stadium with plenty to celebrate after the close of competition at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships on Sunday. The Irish men claimed two of three weapons titles in the morning before the No. 3-ranked women closed out the weekend with their third consecutive conference crown.
How It Happened
Men’s Individual Championships
The Irish advanced seven student-athletes to the semifinals of the individual competition and guaranteed themselves championships in epee and foil by advancing two fencers to the final bouts in each weapon category. Freshman Ariel Simmons won his first conference title in epee, defeating reigning ACC Champion Dylan French. Senior foilist Kristjan Archer also captured his first ACC gold, upending defending champ Axel Kiefer. In sabre, junior Jonah Shainberg took home silver.
Simmons scored two upsets en route to his victory. The freshman from Bellaire, Texas, was seeded fourth after pool play, but defeated top-seeded Bryn Hammarberg of North Carolina in a thrilling 15-14 semifinal bout. French, the No. 3 seed in the semifinal, bounced second-seeded Tar Heel Matt Shlimak 15-9 to advance. In the final, Simmons prevailed 15-9 to take over the epee crown.
The foil final was ultimately a rematch of the 2016 title bout, as Archer and Kiefer also dueled for the gold a season ago with Kiefer winning by a 15-7 decision. This time around, Archer came through with a 15-11 victory, installing himself as the third different Irish foil champion in as many seasons.
Kiefer, who was seeded fourth after the round robin, defeated junior teammate and top seed Hazem Khazbak in the semifinal, 15-9. The third-seeded Archer defeated Duke’s Eoin Gronningsater 15-10 to advance to the final. Khazbak ultimately finished in fourth place.
Shainberg snared the second seed into the sabre semis and faced off with third-seeded classmate Jonathan Fitzgerald, winning 15-9 to meet Duke’s Pascual Di Tella in the championship bout. Di Tella raced to a 10-2 lead before Shainberg cut it to 12-6, but Di Tella got the final three touches to win the match. Fitzgerald finished in fourth place.
In addition to Notre Dame’s semifinalists, the Irish boast three other fencers in the top six: sophomore Darius Zacharakis in epee (fifth), senior Virgile Collineau in foil (fifth) and junior Ian Jones in sabre (sixth).
Women’s Team Championship
No such drama existed during the women’s team competition. The No. 3 ranked Irish breezed to three wins on the day, claiming their third straight conference title, decided by best overall record after the four-team round robin.
The Notre Dame women’s fencing team celebrates winning the 2017 ACC Championships.
The Irish defeated Boston College 24-3 to start the day, followed by a 20-7 victory over 10th-ranked Duke. Notre Dame sewed up the title with a 20-7 win over North Carolina.
The Irish foil squad was dominant, going 9-0 against both Boston College and Duke and 7-2 against North Carolina. Sophomore Elyssa Kleiner led the squad with a 9-0 record Sunday, while senior Lee Kiefer was also undefeated at 6-0. Sophomore Sabrina Massialas and freshman Samantha Viqueira both ended the day with 5-1 marks.
In epee, the Irish went 20-7 in three matches, led by sophomores Amanda Sirico and Molly Hudson’s 7-2 records. Junior Marie-Anne Roche went 6-3.
The sabre squad posted a 19-8 record on the day, led by junior Claudia Kulmacz with a 6-2 record. Freshman Regina O’Brien went 6-3, sophomore Tara Hassett was 3-1 and junior Francesca Russo was 4-2.
Most Valuable Fencers
Notre Dame boasted both men’s and women’s Most Valuable Fencers, as voted on by the conference coaches on Sunday. Freshman Ariel Simmons and sophomore Sabrina Massialas earned the honors for the men and women, respectively.
Simmons helped the Irish win the team title with an 8-1 record on Saturday before rising to claim the men’s epee crown, the first of his career.
Massialas was named MVF for the second straight year after becoming Notre Dame’s first repeat ACC champion.
From Coach Gia Kvarataskhelia
On repeating as ACC Champions…
“After our scare yesterday with the men’s team (against Duke), the women were fully prepared, locked and loaded, focused and composed.”
On having different athletes win individual championships each year…
“It’s work every single day. We have a slogan that perfection is a habit and we try to live with that expectation every single day. That produces the champions at the end. … As long as (our defending champions) are getting replaced by a teammate, we’re OK with that. It’s always hard to focus against a teammate; the dynamics are different. For us, we don’t care which one of our kids wins as long as we take the hardware home.”
On what stood out over the weekend…
“We go back to what happened yesterday, to be consistent all across the board. The women really brought consistency in all three weapons today on the floor and I’m so proud of them for that.”
On looking ahead to NCAA regionals and national championships…
“It’s a short memory. We’re going to enjoy it for a few hours and starting tomorrow we’re going to get ready for regional qualifiers. Hopefully that will give us a good starting point for NCAAs.”
ACC Fencing Championships
February 25-26, 2016
Cameron Indoor Stadium
Men’s Individual Championships
 Jonah Shainberg (ND) def.  Jonathan Fitzgerald (ND) 15-9
 Pascual Di Tella (DU) def.  Jonah Shainberg 15-6
 Agoston Walter (DU) def.  Jonathan Fitzgerald 15-14
 Axel Kiefer (DU) def.  Hazem Khazbak (ND) 15-9
 Kristjan Archer (ND) def.  Eoin Gronningsater (DU) 15-10
 Kristjan Archer (ND) def.  Axel Kiefer (ND) 15-11
 Eoin Gronningsater (DU) def.  Hazem Khazbak (ND) 15-5
 Ariel Simmons (ND) def.  Bryn Hammarberg (UNC) 15-14
 Dylan French (ND) def.  Matt Shlimak (UNC) 15-9
 Ariel Simmons (ND) def.  Dylan French (ND) 15-9
Women’s Team Championship
No. 3 Notre Dame 24, Boston College 3
Molly Hudson 3-0
Amanda Sirico 3-0
Marie-Anne Roche 1-2
Lee Kiefer 3-0
Elyssa Kleiner 3-0
Samantha Viqueira 3-0
Claudia Kulmacz 3-0
Regina O’Brien 3-0
Tara Hassett 2-1
No. 3 Notre Dame 20, No. 10 Duke 7
Sabrina Massialas 3-0
Francesca Russo 2-1
No. 3 Notre Dame 20, North Carolina 7
Notre Dame fencers will be back in competition March 11 for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships at Matthei Center in Detroit. There, the Irish will vie to fill the 12 maximum spots into the NCAA Championships, which will be co-hosted by Notre Dame and the Indiana Sports Corp, March 23-26 at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.
— ND —
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, and earned her master’s degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in 2013.