March 19, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The University of Notre Dame fencing team left in the waning hours of the afternoon Tuesday, March 18 for the 2014 NCAA National Championships, held in the French Fieldhouse in Columbus, Ohio. The Irish qualified 10 fencers for the Championship and wield perhaps their youngest roster ever with four sophomores and one freshman.
“Everything about this sport is open until the end,” Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski states. “It’s not finished until the end. Our goal this year is to maintain our position within the top four as in years past, and we know that this goal is attainable.”
Bednarski continues, “Our toughest competition will be competing against teams who qualified 12 fencers; that is always hard to compete with from a numbers perspective, but as always, everything depends on each individual.”
The competition will begin on Thursday, March 20th and conclude Sunday the 23rd, with the women facing off first. Live stats of the event can be found here, and footage from the semifinal and final bouts of each weapon class will be aired on ESPN3 (watch here).
Fencers will compete in a round robin format of five-touch bouts to begin the championship draws. After the round robin, the top four fencers will compete in semifinal 15-touch bouts, with the winners fencing to determine first and second places, and the losers being awarded a tie for third place. Absolute ties for seeding are broken by a coin toss for positions one through three, and via fence-off for fourth place.
The cumulative number of points earned by participating fencers determines an institution’s finish at the NCAA Championship. A team will be awarded one point for each victory by its student-athletes for the duration of the championship.
The eight-time national champion Irish won the NCAA title in the men’s division in 1977, 1978 and 1986, and claimed the women’s crown in 1987. Since the NCAA began recognizing combined champions during the 1990 season, Notre Dame has won four national titles (1994, 2003, 2005 and 2011).
Women’s foil will start the competition on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., and reigning champion Lee Kiefer will start with the same two bouts this year as she did last year. In the first, she’ll combat teammate Madison Zeiss, and in the second, her older sister Alex, who competes for Harvard. Alex handed lil’ sis her only loss of pool play competition last year, narrowly clinching the 5-4 win on a controversial touch.
This will be Zeiss’s third time at the NCAA Championships, having finished eighth in 2012 and tied for third in 2013.
In women’s epee, 2012 teammates Nicole Ameli and Ashley Severson will pair together in hopes of placing within their weapon field. Both women are making their second trip, as Courtney Hurley and Ewa Nelip represented the Irish in 2013.
Johanna Thill is the lone women’s sabreuse for the Irish, but she enters the field with a season record of 51-14 and eager to advance into the elimination rounds. She finished 11th in 2013, good for Third-Team All-American honors.
On the men’s squad, the foil team has both the oldest and youngest of the Irish competitors with graduate student Gerek Meinhardt and freshman Kristjan Archer. Archer narrowly earned the nod over senior and 2011 NCAA Champion Ariel DeSmet, who also made the trip as an alternate this year.
Meinhardt enters the competition as the No. 2 men’s foilist in the world, after starting the season ranked No. 1 after the Paris Foil World Cup. He is a three-time first-team All-American after having finished second in 2009, first in 2010, and tied for third in 2013.
Archer is the sole international team member on the Irish this year, hailing from Cambridge, United Kingdom. He competes for the British Junior National Team and has been steadily improving throughout the season in NCAA competition.
For men’s sabre, the 2013 duo of senior Kevin Hassett and Sophomore John Hallsten will again compete for the Blue & Gold. Hassett provides veteran leadership to a young team, while Hallsten’s quick wit and cerebral athleticism have proved deadly to competitors throughout the 2014 season.
Rounding out the group is men’s epeeist Garrett McGrath, also making his second trip to the Championship. McGrath anchored the men’s epee team to a third-place finish at the Midwest Fencing Conference (MFC) Championships a month ago and could prove to be the difference for the Irish this year.
Full recaps from each day’s competition will be posted on und.com.