Nov. 14, 2009
Junior Irish fencer Eileen Hassett, a two-time All-American, adds spark to the Notre Dame fencing team with her unique bouting style. The coaches praise the Oregon native’s athletic style of bouting, which focuses on minimizing movements and strategic use of distance on the strip. Hassett’s style is the opposite of traditional static bouting of the past, but has brought her great success. As a second team All-American last season, her performance helped the Irish nab second place at 2009 NCAA Fencing Championships. Hassett recently sat down with UND.com to tell us a bit more about herself.
1. How did you become interested in fencing?
I actually learned about fencing because I went to school with the little brother of the gold medalist for sabre. I had a crush on her little brother in middle school, so I told my mother I wanted to try fencing. Two years later, in the summer before my sophomore year, my mother got a package for a private fencing lesson from an auction. I went to the private lesson and the woman was surprised that I had never fenced before, because she thought I had good footwork. Another coach there also complimented on my very fast ability to learn the sport. I was taken up in all the hope they had in me after meeting me for such a short time. I told my mother I would like to learn more and my parents put me into a little kids’ summer camp with children who were about 5 years younger than me. I was furious when these little kids at camp would beat me. My competitive nature and the wonderful supportive environment led me to love the club, sport and the people there.
2. Any favorite bouts or events where you thought you fought your best?
I have two favorite bouts. One was when I was at a world prix in Canada, about 10 months after I had first started to fence and I was fencing to get into the top 16. I was supposed to fence a girl from France. My coaches both told me that she was pretty good, but not excellent, pumping me up before my bout. I ended up winning the bout. My coaches and other people around me hurried up to me afterwards, saying “You just beat the world champion from France!”
My second favorite bout was last April when I went home to Portland for a Division I competition. I live in Portland and my siblings had taken the day off from school to support me. I ended up winning the competition and I beat the girl who was the alternate for the Olympic team. I had never won a tournament until that point, and it was great to share it with the ones I loved most.
3. What is your best or favorite move?
My best move is probably an attack to the bottom of the person’s hand, or a 2 pare’, which means that I block the sabre when it is in a low position.
4. In high school, did you have to choose between basketball and fencing? If so, why did you pick fencing?
In high school, I did have to choose between basketball and fencing. I had done basketball my entire life and my mom and dad had both played it. My older sister was always much better than me. I was going to make varsity my sophomore year, and my sister was thrilled to have a chance to play with me. However, I had lived in my sister’s shadow my entire life. She was stronger than me, taller than me at 6-2 and more talented. I was sick of doing worse at her in the sport. Also, I do not like team sports as much, because with fencing the blame or the success was directly on me. I do not like to fail people. Also, I had the best club, arguably in the world, at my disposal. My coach is the Olympic coach and my teammates are the gold medalist, bronze medalist and several other world champions. The environment is friendly and laid back. Everyone is very supportive and there are not really cliques at the club, something that I feel is huge in most sports.
5. What are your goals for this season?
I want to do my best for my team. I want to win at the NCAA Championships so much this year. I hope that my performance will help us achieve that goal.
6. You have competed in several international fencing competitions. Do you have any Olympic aspirations, like fellow Irish fencer and Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis?
That is really hard to say. It requires so much time and money to travel internationally. Right now, even though I would love to try, I want to finish strong in my studies. I would have to start up very strong this coming spring if I really wanted to be considered for the Olympics.
7. Do you have any pre-bout superstitions?
Yes. I never get a lesson from my coach before a bout. I had one once and it really threw me off at the tournament.
8. What is your routine before an event?
I have to run around enough and bout with others. It’s pretty basic.
9. What is your favorite memory with the Notre Dame fencing squad?
That is such a difficult question. I think it is the bonding that goes on during the very interesting Polish speeches that two of our coaches give us.
10. What was it like to win a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships in 2007?
That was one of the most fun competitions I went to. It was great to be in Turkey and in a village that was specifically for fencers. The actual experience of winning the bronze was terribly disappointing, because we were expected to win. We had the now Olympic bronze medalist on our team, the girl who went as fourth for the Olympic team and another really talented girl. I fenced very well myself, but the others were expected to blow everyone else out of the water.
11. What is the hardest part about being a student-athlete at Notre Dame?
Definitely balancing my major with fencing and sleep. I am majoring in industrial design. We have to put in almost as much effort as the architecture students to be successful at this major.
12. What is your favorite spot on campus?
My favorite spot on campus is probably the large tree that is very near to the Grotto. I definitely cried my eyes out there after my first philosophy test.
13. What dorm do you live in?
14. What is your favorite Notre Dame football game day tradition?
The trumpets playing the Victory March under the Dome.
15. Describe the experience of a typical fencing competition.
Get up early, drink coffee, drag your huge bag over to the venue where the tournament is located, do your own thing for warm up, check all your gear to make sure it is conductive, put on your gear and fence with your teammates, fence a pool of 6 or 7 people to 5 points, get ranked and then placed into a direct elimination bracket, and hope for the best.
16. Who is your greatest inspiration?
My father and mother, because they always work hard and I hope that someday I can turn out to be nearly as good a person as them.
17. How would your teammates describe you?
Bubbly, active, on task, social, nice and probably naÃƒÂ¯ve
18. What sport would you play if you weren’t a fencer?
Well, I am best at basketball, but I would really love to play volleyball.
19. What do you like to do when you aren’t fencing?
I love to watch old movies, go to coffee shops, draw, paint, read, go do random things with friends, cook, and hang out with family.
20. What does being part of the Fighting Irish mean to you?
It means being in a family that will support you, be by your side, teach you valuable lessons about life and teach you how to enjoy who you are. I love this school.
— ND —