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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer

Individual champs Muhari, Linder power Irish fencing to historic three-peat

Notre Dame fencing celebrates its 12th national championship in March 27, 2022. Gracie Lee | The Observer
Notre Dame fencing celebrates its 12th national championship in March 27, 2022.

For years, Notre Dame fencing has been making history. This year, they made a little more.

On the road at the iconic Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, they fought off the competition to win their third consecutive NCAA Championship. The success keeps the No. 1 on Grace Hall lit and makes them the first team on campus to three-peat.

Their success was buoyed by the exceptional contributions of more than 60 fencers across countless practice bouts, lifts and everything in between. But on that championship weekend in Durham, it was just twelve fencers who secured the hardware for Notre Dame. Two of them – freshman epee Eszter Muhari and junior sabre Luke Linder – rose above the rest to claim individual championships in their respective weapons.

Despite their similar success, their stories could not be more different. For Muhari, it is the typical freshman tale of adjusting to an entirely new environment and building a support group in a new place.

“[Coming to Notre Dame] was a really big adjustment and I was scared at first,” she said. “But thanks to my professors, the coaches and all the advisors and everyone we have, I have been able manage it well.”

That support system followed her all the way to NCAA competition, where she leaned on her coaches and teammates for support in the most crucial bouts of the weekend.

“At first, I was anxious about it, but as the bouts were going by, I got more confident, and that's because of the crowd that was there from Notre Dame. Most of the team was there, plus the coaches and all the support we had,” Muhari said. “They just made me feel so relaxed and so hype that I was like, ‘we’re here, there’s nothing to worry about.’”

For Linder, this year was all about proving himself. A national champion in 2021, Linder had been there before, but in a COVID-altered year. The 2021 season saw the juggernaut Ivy League teams that often challenge Notre Dame cancel their entire sports season and not compete in fencing at all. In 2022, Linder was limited during the regular season and fought through injury to finish seventh in his effort to defend his title at the NCAAs. All of that led him to a 2023 where, for the first time in his college career, he fenced a complete season while fully healthy.

“To be back this year, fully healthy the entire season and to win it again when everybody is there, it just means a lot more,” Linder said. “Especially against a tougher field of opponents, it just proves that I’m still one of the best.”

It was a long road for the now two-time national champion who, despite the challenges, always put in the work to get back to the top.

“Recovery took a while, but to have a whole season where I felt comfortable… it’s just incredible because it shows how committed I am to the sport and how much work I put in to get where I am now," he said. "It all paid off.”

The Irish’s two individual champions also represent the blend of youth and experience that was present on this year’s championship team. Muhari won the title as a freshman, but foilist Chase Emmer (tied-third place) and epee Maruan Osman-Touson (eighth place) joined her as freshman podium finishers. Linder won his as a junior and was joined by four other upperclassmen on the podium. Even so, Muhari stressed how they all came together as a team.

“[Going to college], I wanted to be part of a team and that's the most perfect thing that I found here: a team,” she said.

While they enjoyed the victory for a bit, the Notre Dame fencing team is already back at practice and looking forward to next season. Even Linder, with three team titles and two individual crowns to his name, said he is ready for the next season to come along. He has his eyes on a greater goal.

“Four for four would be a huge, huge feat,” he said. “To set it up for the people who come after, when I'm gone, and to give them the opportunity to continue this and build on the success we've had, it’s an honor. It’s definitely something that I'm looking forward to for next year.”