March 10, 2016

By J.P. Bruno `18

Erin Dietsche does not have the same story as most members of the University of Notre Dame fencing team. Erin Dietsche is not a typical Notre Dame fencer.

In an era where high-achieving fencers have been competing since a very young age, traveling the country for national tournaments by the time they reach middle school, it is rare to find a collegiate fencer who has followed the same path as Dietsche and attained her level of success.

Dietsche first tried fencing during her freshman year of high school.

“My mom told me I needed to try a new sport,” recalls Dietsche. “My older sister was on the high school fencing team, so I figured I’d give it a try. I really came in with no expectations, just looking to try something new.”

Erin.Dietsche, far right, competed at the World University Games last summer as part of the U.S. women’s foil team.

Yet even after trying out the new sport, it took a while for Dietsche to realize she had a future with it. Going from a stubborn sophomore to a dedicated junior required an acquired love, one which continues today.

“I actually only applied to colleges that have fencing programs,” says Dietsche. “I just wanted to see where the sport of fencing took me because I had learned to love it so much. Before my freshman year, I reached out to the Notre Dame coaches to see if they had any spots. I knew that they had such a high-class program, and I was shocked when they told me I could compete for a spot.”

Coach Gia Kvaratskhelia has recruited the top fencers around the world, yet he saw something special in the walk-on from New Jersey who at the time had a “D” rating in the junior foil division.

“Coming here, it was a true Notre Dame story,” reflects Kvaratskhelia. “Giving an opportunity to someone who hadn’t had it before and watching her take full advantage of it has been really special.”

As the coach noticed, Dietsche has done nothing but improve since stepping foot on Notre Dame’s campus. Week after week, month after month, she grew stronger and faster, building on her natural athleticism to become a competitor among the world-class talent that surrounded her.

“The environment here just breeds improvement and success,” says Dietsche. “I had only fenced against high school-level fencers. Coming here, I got to fence against the top five fencers around the world. Having such an intense environment has allowed me to grow.”

As both an athlete and a teammate, Erin has proven that the sky’s the limit. As she progressed through her freshman year, she began to win more matches, earning herself a spot on the travel team. Later in the season, the head coach at Penn State reached out to Kvaratskhelia about having Dietsche apply for a spot on the United States foil team for the World University Games. After going through the selection process, Dietsche set off to South Korea to compete, placing 33rd in a pool of almost 400 fencers.

“Never in a million years did I expect to participate in anything like that, let alone achieve the results that I did,” says Dietsche.

Earlier this semester, Dietsche traveled to the U.S. Junior Olympic Championships, once again entering without expecting much.

“I went in just looking to enjoy the experience,” says Dietsche. “It was my last major meet as a junior, because I am aging into the senior category later this year. I actually ended up getting one of my best results ever, placing third. It’s a tribute to being here and how I’ve been able to go farther than I ever thought I could.”

But what has driven this growth for Erin?

“Her rigor, competitiveness, desire, attention to details,” Kvaratskhelia states. “All this combined with kindness makes her so special. In all my years of coaching I’ve never seen someone develop at such a rapid rate.”

Aside from growing in purely skill, Dietsche has developed as a teammate who pushes others to succeed. When entering the Notre Dame fencing program, intimidation was a huge factor. But alongside Dietsche’s skill development, Kvaratskhelia has noticed her being more willing to speak up as a confident member of the team.

“She started at the bottom and started beating one after another,” reflects Kvaratskhelia. “Being with the superstars gave her the confidence to believe that she could be something special, and confidence is the foundation for success. Her work ethic and improvement has established her as a role model for many members of our team.”

And yet for Dietsche, the fight is not over. Next year Notre Dame will again bring in the top recruiting class in collegiate fencing, and she must once again fight for her spot in the foil lineup. In thinking of this, Dietsche remembers a conversation she had with Kvaratskhelia early on in her freshman year.

“Coach asked me what my goals as a fencer were,” remembers Dietsche. “And I said that I wanted to prove as much as I possibly could.”

All that remains is to see how much Dietsche has yet to prove.

“The sky is the limit,” says Coach Gia. “I think she is not even halfway there yet. She has so much more to offer and do in the future; I would not be surprised if one of these days she starts to medal at the senior level.”

Erin Dietsche is not a traditional Notre Dame fencer, yet it is what makes her different that makes her such a huge asset to the team.

“She is an inspiration to anyone who doesn’t come from a highly recruited background, or were not given the opportunity to travel and compete as a child,” says Coach Gia. “Given this place, in the midsts of spotlights we can say here is the girl who was not that great, but who came here and became a superstar.”

Only time will tell just how far fencing will take Erin, but for her coach the formula is simple.

“Fencing at Notre Dame gave her confidence, and confidence is the basis for success.”

Dietsche will join 18 of her Notre Dame teammates this weekend as they compete at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships in Columbus, Ohio, to vie for a qualifying spot at the NCAA Championships, which will be held later this month. Dietsche has compiled a 43-12 record during collegiate bouts this season, with a 71-18 career record.