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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame looks to defend at ACC championships

The Notre Dame’s men’s and women’s squads will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, to compete in the two-day ACC championships beginning Saturday. Twenty-four of the 65 members of the team will make the trip, with four athletes representing the Irish in each category of competition.

The tournament will see eight different champions crowned, as there are individual men’s and women’s titles in foil, epee and sabre as well as men’s and women’s team champions. Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said he is looking forward to seeing how the chips fall, as ACC play is always interesting due to the high level of competition.

“They are two independent competitions, but all of our athletes will compete in both,” Kvaratskhelia said.

His strategy throughout this week of practice has been to focus the teams and prepare them to deal with both competitions, he said.

“If we attack every day with the same intensity, when we go to compete, we should have all our ducks in a row,” Kvaratskhelia said.

The women have maintained their No. 1 ranking all season. Meanwhile, the men have recently dropped behind Harvard to the No. 2 spot nationally. Both programs are hoping to clinch their fourth-straight conference titles.

“The rankings are so subjective. Last year, the women were ranked third nationally and the men were ranked fourth, but we dominated the ACC championship,” Kvaratskhelia said. “Likewise, in years past, we were ranked No. 1 and didn’t win the title.”

Of the 24 athletes participating, nine finished in the top 15 at the NCAA championship. That veteran squad is joined by five freshmen.

The team is coming off of a long break, having last competed in the Northwestern Duals at home on Feb. 4. It was scheduled to face Duke in Durham, North Carolina, at the Duke Duals, but the trip was cancelled due to weather.

Although Duke is typically some of the top competition in the conference, Kvaratskhelia said his team will not be phased. While the Irish have not faced Duke this season, they have competed against North Carolina, and Kvaratskhelia said he was pleased with the results.

“The last three years, it’s come down between us and Duke, but North Carolina and Boston College will also be tough to deal with,” he said.

Upon their return from Greensboro, the Irish will shift their focus to NCAA qualifications. Kvaratskhelia said the list, a national ranking based on strength of competition, will be released two weeks after the ACC championships to determine who qualifies for the national championship. The results of this weekend have no bearing on the ranking.

“The team is very motivated,” Kvaratskhelia said. “It’s not our destiny to win every single year, but hopefully we’ll be strong enough to retain the titles.” 

Despite the looming national competitions, Kvaratskhelia said he intends to focus on the present.

“We have to stick to our daily routine and avoid looking ahead,” he said.

The men’s individual and women’s team competition will take place Saturday, followed by the women’s individual and men’s team championship Sunday.