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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

ACC Championship, Fencing, Joyce Center, Mens Fencing

Irish sweep individuals, claim women’s team title at home ACCs

Under the lights of the Castellan Family Fencing Center, Notre Dame’s powerhouse fencing program excelled throughout the two-day ACC Championships. In the individual portion Saturday, they swept all six gold medals while taking 12 of 18 overall podium places.

In a Sunday team event that was “more about performance than results,” according to sabre coach Christian Rascioni, the Irish still picked up some solid results. They finished second on the men’s side after dropping a match to North Carolina, but rebounded in the afternoon session as the women took the ACC title in a fence-off against Duke.

Individuals

The Irish successfully defended home piste across the board, sweeping every weapon on the men’s and women’s side. It was a mix of experienced veterans and relative newcomers who got it done for Notre Dame.

“Everything worked to perfection,” Rascioni said Saturday night. “The kids were super focused and sharp.”

On the men’s side, two-time NCAA champion Luke Linder took another ACC title in the sabre, defending his crown from a year ago. The senior went 11-4 in the pools before he defeated Boston College’s Inigo Rivera and then his own teammate sophomore Grant Dodrill in a tight 15-13 final.

It was one of three all-Irish finals on the men’s side. In the men’s foil, Notre Dame accounted for three of the four semifinalists a sophomore Ethan Augustine (11-3) and freshman Mason Stanley (10-4) topped pool play. However, it was another freshman, Dominic Joseph, who qualified for the semis with a 9-5 record and went on to win the title.

Joseph defeated Augustine 15-14 in the semifinal and then Stanley in the final by the same margin. Augustine went on to defeat North Carolina’s Nicky Baumstein 15-10 in the third-place match to complete the Irish podium sweep in men’s foil.

The men’s epee saw two Irish fencers, sophomores Noah Silvers and Jonathan Hamilton-Meikle qualify for the semifinals, topping pools with 13-1 and 11-3 records, respectively. Silvers dispatched UNC’s Maximo Zafft in a 15-12 semifinal win while Hamilton-Meikle took a 15-13 win over BC’s Levi Hughes. Silvers dominated the final 15-4 to claim his first career ACC title.

The women’s side saw even more dominance from the Irish. In the foil, sophomore Josephina Conway put together the performance of the weekend, not losing a single bout on her way to an ACC title. She was a perfect 14-0 in the pools before two straight-forward 15-touch bouts. She beat Duke’s Charlotte Koenig 15-4 in a largely stress-free semifinal. In the final, she had a fast start, getting out to a 7-1 lead before eventually winning the title with a 15-9 win over Duke’s Christina Ferrari.

“I was really nervous, and I had butterflies in my stomach all day,” Conway said. “Channeling that to be really conscious of every touch and to stay locked in and focused was the most important thing.”

In the women’s epee, Notre Dame qualified three fencers to the semifinals with senior Amanda Pirkowski, sophomore Sedna Gandhi and sophomore Michaela Joyce. Gandhi defeated Joyce 15-10 in an All-Irish semifinal while Pirkowski lost 9-15 to UNC’s Nicole Milewski.

Pirkowski’s semifinal saw a lengthy interruption when the pair clashed, and the Irish fencer required medical attention. She was able to finish her bout but later withdrew from the third-place match, giving Joyce the bronze.

In the final, Gandhi and Milewski were hesistant to engage at first, and the pair received yellow cards after an opening minute without engagements. From there, Gandhi largely asserted herself, leading 7-4 at the first break and eventually pulling away to win 15-8 and claim her first ACC title.

The women’s saber final was a top contender for the most exciting bout of the day. Three Irish fencers qualified for the semifinals, led by experienced senior Atara Greenbaum (14-1 in pools) and junior Jadeyn Williams (13-2). Freshman Chelsea Delsoin also made the semis with an 11-4 record in pools.

Greenbaum defeated Delsoin 15-11 in the first semifinal while Williams lost 8-15 against UNC’s Sophia Kovacs. After a fairly tight bout early, Kovacs found momentum after the break to put Greenbaum in a 10-14 hole with the championship on the line.

“I was just trying to stay calm and focused, so I can get the right actions going,” Greenbaum said about the late deficit. “You just gave to fight until the end, it’s not over until it’s over.”

It’s a lesson that Kovacs learned the hard way as Greenbaum rattled off 5 consecutive points to come back and win her first ACC title. She had previously finish second (2021) and third (2022) at the ACC Championships.

Team Event

In the team event, Notre Dame defended their title on the women’s side and came second, losing to UNC, on the men’s side. Rascioni described the team’s approach and expectations heading into Sunday.

“The team event will be a little different. We are trying some different fencers, some freshmen and some people who don’t have the chance to fence so often,” Rascioni said. “We are not expecting, very honestly, incredible results. We look at it as a kind of investment for the future.”

Rascioni highlighted the principal goal of qualifying the maximum 12 fencers to the NCAA Championships next month and then to ensure that those who qualify are well-prepared to go and repeat as national champions for the fourth year in a row.

To Rascioni’s point, Sunday’s team event didn’t feature some of Notre Dame’s standouts from the individual competition. Linder did not fence at all after his title effort on Saturday. Neither did Hamilton-Meikle, an NCAA qualifier a year ago and a silver medalist on Saturday. Bronze medalist Augustine was limited to just three bouts Saturday.

The mixed-up squad showed in their 17-10 loss to North Carolina. The squad lost across the board, going 3-6 in sabre and foil and 4-5 in epee against the Tar Heels. This left Notre Dame at 1-1, needing help from Duke and a win over BC to have a fence-off for the title. Notre Dame did their part, beating the Eagles 20-7, but UNC took a comfortable 19-8 win over their rivals to secure the ACC title and avoid a fence-off with the Irish.

It was a similar story as the men’s side in terms of prominent absences. Greenbaum skipped the team event after winning the individual title. Bronze medalist Jadeyn Williams also didn’t participate. After a perfect Saturday, ACC foil champion Conway was also largely absent, only fencing two bouts.

Despite those absences, the women’s team won their first two matches against BC and UNC, but the final match didn’t go to plan. The Blue Devils rallied from a tight 13-14 loss to BC in their second match to beat Notre Dame 17-10 and force a fence-off for the title.

With Duke and Notre Dame tied with 2-1 records, each team selected one fencer in each weapon to compete in one 5-touch bout. The winner of two of those bouts would become the champion.

Conway stepped up, in only her second bout of the day, as the Irish foil representative in the tiebreaker. She took care of business and defeated Duke’s Rachel Koo in the fence-off to pick up a crucial point for Notre Dame. The win completed a perfect 18-0 weekend for Conway across the individual and team competitions. 

The other Irish point came from the experienced Amanda Pirkowski. After receiving medical attention in her semifinal bout Saturday and then withdrawing from the bronze-medal match, she bounced back in the team event. She went 6-3 in the matches and then beat Chloe Beittel to secure the Irish women a team ACC title.

Notre Dame fencing will be back in action March 9 at the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships. The meet will be hosted at the Wayne State Fieldhouse in Detroit.

Correction: The story originally stated Notre Dame's women's team lost 18-9 to Duke in the team event. The team lost 17-10. The mistake was the result of an error in the official statistics that was later corrected. The change to Josephina Conway's bout in the Duke match also altered her final record for the weekend, which was also corrected from 17-1 to 18-0.