March 23, 2018
By Joanne Norell
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The University of Notre Dame women’s fencing team went a collective 39-9 during the final two rounds of pool competition Friday at the National Collegiate Fencing Championships, staking the Irish to a six-point lead in first place as competition shifts to the men’s event beginning Saturday.
The Irish women totaled 95 points through two days, leading Penn State (89), Columbia (86) and Ohio State (76) as the event hit the halfway point. The Irish also added five All-Americans to their ranks, including first-teamers Sabrina Massialas, Elyssa Kleiner, Amanda Sirico and Francesca Russo, and second-team honoree Tara Hassett.
Massialas led the Irish with a second-place finish in women’s foil, while Kleiner (foil), Sirico (epee) and Russo (sabre) each captured third after advancing to the final four in their respective weapons.
How It Happened
Juniors Kleiner and Massialas ensured that at least one Irish foilist would fence for the national title, earning the second and third seeds, respectively, to advance to the semifinal. Kleiner led the way with a 18-5 record, while Massialas went 7-1 on the day to finish 17-6.
Facing each other in the second foil semifinal, the pair fenced to a near standstill in the first period, with Massialas leading 8-7 after three minutes. The two-time All-American pulled away in the second, however, winning 15-9 and earning a trip to the championship bout. Kleiner finished with bronze and her first career First Team All-America citation.
Massialas faced top-seed Iman Blow from Columbia in the final, trading touches through a tight first period. The Irish junior led 10-9 after the first three periods, but Blow outscored Massialas 4-1 to start the second and came away with the 15-12 victory.
Massialas’ silver medal marks her best career NCAA finish, having finished third as a freshman in 2016 and fifth as a sophomore in 2017.
Junior Sirico replicated her round-robin performance from a year ago, going 20-3 to earn her second straight trip to the national semifinals and the top overall seed.
In the semifinal, Sirico faced fourth-seeded Veronika Zuikova of St. John’s. The Bowie, Maryland, product led after each of the first two periods and went up 12-7 in the third, but Zuikova scored five straight touches to force overtime and completed the comeback in a 13-12 win.
Sirico finished in a third-place tie for the second straight season, earning her second career First Team All-America placement.
Freshman Dasha Yefremenko finished the weekend with a 7-16 mark.
Senior Russo finished pool play on a high note, climbing to second place after starting the day in fourth and falling to fifth after the first round of the day. After going 4-0 in the final round robin, the defending national champion earned her way into the semifinals with an 18-5 record.
Russo faced Princeton’s Maia Chamberlain in the semifinal, fencing her Tiger opponent to a near standstill, trailing just 8-7 at the break. But after Russo scored the first touch of the second half, Chamberlain rattled off five straight points to go up 13-8. Russo answered with three consecutive touches, but Chamberlain clinched the bout at 15-12.
Russo joins the ranks of Notre Dame’s four-time All-Americans, becoming the 25th member of that exclusive club. Three of those citations are first-team honors, making her one of 11 Irish fencers to earn at least three First Team All-America recognition.
Junior Hassett also rebounded from a 7-8 first day, going 8-0 Friday and climbing eight spots to finish in seventh place. Hassett finished as a Second Team All-American, her second career All-America honor.
From Coach Gia Kvaratskhelia
On the team’s overall performance in the final two women’s rounds…
“I’ve been in collegiate sports for 11 years and I have never seen a tougher group effort than I saw today; never seen a more gritty, relentless effort in my coaching career than I saw today. It was across the board outstanding effort and everyone gave the maximum. We absolutely dominated the field.”
On the team’s standing heading into the second half of the competition…
“We start over 0-0 tomorrow and we need to match the intensity of what the girls did today.”
On expectations for the men’s competitors…
“We need to fight like we did today. If we fight, we are good enough to compete with anyone.”
National Collegiate Fencing Championships
March 22-25, 2016
Multi-Sport Facility | Penn State
State College, Pa.
Women’s Competition (March 22-23)
2. Sabrina Massialas, 17-6*
T-3. Elyssa Kleiner, 18-5*
T-3. Amanda Sirico, 13-2*
23. Dasha Yefremenko, 7-16
T-3. Francesca Russo 18-5*
7. Tara Hassett 15-8**
*First Team All-American
**Second Team All-American
1. Notre Dame 95
2. Penn State 89
3. Columbia 86
4. Ohio State 76
5. Princeton 60
The focus will shift to the men’s competition starting Saturday with rounds 1-3 of foil, epee and sabre. The foil rounds will begin at 9 a.m. ET, followed by epee at 11 a.m. and sabre at 1:30 p.m. at Penn State’s Multi-Sport Facility.
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 men’s tennis and fencing programs, in addition to assisting with football communications and overseeing production of the football Gameday Magazine. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University and earned her master’s degree from Georgetown University in 2013.