Many outside observers could garner the impression fencing is primarily an individual sport. Freshman Garrett McGrath would tell a different story.
"It's always one versus one, but your personal performance is being funneled into a collective score," McGrath said. "How you're doing reflects on the team and directly impacts your wins. It's really in your best interest to be team-oriented and help people out as much as you can, during the season and during the tournaments. That way, when they do get to the tournament, they will win. Every one of their wins helps Notre Dame win, and thus helps you win."
For McGrath, the team-first mentality is especially strong on this Notre Dame squad. Not only does the Irish freshman appreciate the team element, but he finds added motivation within it as well.
"When Ohio State came to our meet a week and half ago, I had two very important bouts. I wasn't fencing those so that I, individually, could win. I was fencing those for the team score," McGrath said. "The idea that it was for Notre Dame really motivated me more than I normally would have been. That really improved my performance. It made me much more focused and I was much more intense."
The Irish have a team-first atmosphere on the strip, McGrath said, but he also feels the same motivation to help his teammates outside of athletics.
"I'm a happy person and I like to see other people do well," McGrath said. "I help other people out when they need the help. If somebody is really tired after practice but has to stay up until 5 a.m. to work on their essay, I have stuff to work on too. I'll help them stay awake and work on it. I really try to support the team as much as I can. A lot of people sometimes need that. It's a struggle to succeed academically, as well as do well athletically on the team. So, I've been trying to support my teammates as much as I can, which has helped us grow closer."
As a whole, the Irish are a cohesive group, McGrath said. They enjoy spending time with each other and working together, a characteristic that can act as a catalyst for the team's success.
"Everyone enjoys practicing together," McGrath said. "Everyone enjoys traveling together. It's just a really good dynamic. We're a really cohesive group and I think that will help all of us going forward toward a championship."
This positive team atmosphere contributed to bringing McGrath, one of last year's top recruits, to South Bend. Not every school offers the type of atmosphere Notre Dame offers, McGrath said.
"A lot of the other schools and coaching staffs were not as pleasant in some ways," McGrath said. "They're very hard on the students and the students can then grow bitter toward practice, toward fencing, and toward the coaches themselves. Some schools can accumulate personalities like that. Notre Dame has none of that. The coaching staff here is incredible. The team works very well together. That's one of the main reasons I came to Notre Dame."
Luckily for the Irish, McGrath is just getting started at Notre Dame. On Oct. 14, out of a pool of 255 of the nation's top collegiate fencers, McGrath finished 14th in the men's epee at the North American Cup. Thirteen days later, McGrath won both of his bouts in Notre Dame's exhibition match against reigning national champion Ohio State. This past weekend, at the Penn State Garrett Open, McGrath finished 12th in the Men's epee. His passion for the sport helps him succeed.
"I've seen a lot of people who view it as a job and they don't perform as well," McGrath said. "They don't enjoy practice or tournaments. They just aren't very happy and it's sad to see that happen to someone. I love to fence. I love the rush of it all. I love the adrenaline. The moment I don't love to fence, I'll stop."
Luckily for the Irish, that isn't likely to happen soon, as one of the nation's top freshmen continues shows all signs of a strong career.
Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org