By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For the second time in as many seasons, the University of Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing teams flexed their muscles as toast of the Atlantic Coast Conference, dominating the first day of the ACC Fencing Championships on their home turf at the Castellan Family Fencing Center.
On a day split between the men’s individual championships and the women’s team competition, the Irish took home every title on the table, with the No. 2 men sweeping the individual crowns and the No. 2 women seizing their second consecutive ACC team title.
“Stability was the most important thing for us,” head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said. “No matter how the situation turns, our kids never wavered. We showed that stability and showed that we are a good team. We’ll see what will happen down the road, but we’re happy with where we are right now.”
Men’s Individual Championship
By the end of the morning’s men’s individual championship, the Irish — who claimed all three men’s titles a year ago — had added three new ACC champions to their ranks, with an additional four medaling.
For the second straight year, sophomores Jonah Shainberg and Jonathan Fitzgerald met in the men’s sabre championship bout, this time finding a new result. Shainberg, who took the conference silver a year ago, this year defeated defending champion Fitzgerald 15-12 for his first ACC title.
To get there, the top-seeded Shainberg defeated Duke’s Peter Yang 15-10 in the semifinal, while second-seeded Fitzgerald upended teammate and No. 3 seed Ian Jones 15-9 to reach the gold medal bout. Jones went on to win the bronze medal bout, 15-8 over Yang.
Shainberg posted a 12-2 record in pool play, while Fitzgerald and Shainberg went 11-3.
The Irish again took the top three seeds in men’s foil with freshman Axel Kiefer (13-1), sophomore Virgile Collineau (12-2) and senior Kristjan Archer (11-3) advancing to the semifinals. The semifinals were marked by incredibly tight bouts on both strips, with top-seeded Kiefer fending off Duke’s Jan Maceczek 15-14, while Archer upset defending ACC titleholder Collineau by the same score.
In the final, the rookie Kiefer went on to seize his first conference crown, upending Archer 15-7. Collineau secured the bronze, defeating Maceczek 15-4.
Just one Irish representative advanced to the epee semifinals, with freshman Dylan French securing the No. 4 seed after posting a 9-6 record in pool play. Despite the uphill route, French upset top-seeded Matthew Shlimak of North Carolina 15-11 in the penultimate bout, then snuck past Duke’s Dakota Nollner 15-13 to complete the Irish title sweep.
“It’s really tough to win in conference,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Fencing has gotten so much exposure and every college has really dangerous fencers. Fencing at Notre Dame, we always have a bullseye on us, so I’m very proud of them that came through it.”
Women’s Team Championship
The Notre Dame women (38-0, 5-0 ACC) successfully defended their ACC title, going a perfect 3-0 against Boston College, North Carolina and Duke.
In the first dual of the day, the second-ranked Irish defeated Boston College 21-6, with sophomore Francesca Russo posting a 3-0 record in sabre, sophomore Zoe Loh and freshman Elyssa Kleiner going 3-0 in foil and senior Catherine Lee winning all three bouts in epee.
The Irish next faced North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels 20-7 with undefeated performances by Russo (3-0, sabre), freshman Sabrina Massialas (3-0, foil), Loh (3-0, foil) senior Nicole McKee (1-0, foil), Lee (3-0, epee), freshman Madeline Antekeier (3-0, epee) and senior Eva Niklinska (1-0 epee).
Notre Dame and Duke entered the final match against each other tied for first place with two wins each, but the Irish got off to a 7-0 start and never looked back en route to a 20-7 victory. Freshman sabreuse Tara Hassett clinched the win — and thus, the ACC title — at 14-2, going 2-1 in the match. Also in sabre, sophomore Claudia Kulmacz went 3-0 and Russo 2-0, while Kleiner, Loh and Massialas each went undefeated in foil.
Loh (9-0) and Russo (8-0) led the Irish with undefeated records on the day, while Massialas went 8-1, Lee went 7-2 and Antekeier was 6-2.
With the win, the Irish remain the only women’s team to have won an ACC fencing title, with 2016 marking the second year the conference sponsored a championship in the sport.
The Irish will return to action for Day 2 of the ACC Fencing Championships beginning at 8 a.m. ET Sunday. The women’s individual championships will commence with pool play, followed by semifinal bouts at noon ET and the championships at 12:30 p.m. ET. The men’s team championships will following at approximately 1:30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN3 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
“We’re ready to go,” Kvaratskhelia said. “We expect nothing more than excellent finishes tomorrow.”
ACC Fencing Championships
February 27-28, 2016
Castellan Family Fencing Center
Notre Dame, Ind.
Men’s Individual Championships
 Jonah Shainberg (ND) def.  Peter Yang (DU) 15-10
 Jonathan Fitzgerald (ND) def.  Ian Jones (ND) 15-9
 Jonah Shainberg (ND) def.  Jonathan Fitzgerald (ND) 15-12
 Ian Jones (ND) def.  Peter Yang (DU) 15-8
 Axel Kiefer (ND) def.  Jan Maceczek (DU) 15-14
 Kristjan Archer (ND) def.  Virgile Collineau (ND) 15-14
 Axel Kiefer (ND) def.  Kristjan Archer (ND) 15-7
 Virgile Collineau (ND) def.  Jan Maceczek (DU) 15-4
 Dylan French (ND) def.  Matthew Shlimak (UNC) 15-11
 Dakota Nollner (DU) def. Peter Wetzel (BC) 15-12
 Dylan French (ND) def.  Dakota Nollner (DU) 15-13
Women’s Team Championship
No. 2 Notre Dame 21, Boston College 6
Francesca Russo 3-0
Claudia Kulmacz 2-1
Tara Hassett 1-2
Zoe Loh 3-0
Elyssa Kleiner 3-0
Sabrina Massialas 2-1
Catherine Lee 3-0
Madeline Antekeier 2-1
Marie-Anne Roche 2-1
No. 2 Notre Dame 20, North Carolina 7
Nicole McKee 1-0
Eva Niklinska 1-0
No. 2 Notre Dame 20, Duke 7
Jamie Norville 0-1
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant 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 and earned her master’s degree from Georgetown University in 2013.