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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

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Irish lose championship streak, Linder makes program history

Harvard captures NCAA Fencing Championship, denying Notre Dame's four-peat bid

Notre Dame fencing's magical, multi-year run atop the college fencing world has -- at least for the next year -- come to an end. Harvard snapped the three-season Irish streak of national championships, claiming the 2024 team title in Columbus, Ohio. The Crimson posted 169 points, besting Notre Dame's silver medal-worthy 161 and Columbia/Barnard's third-place 149.

Harvard's team championship marks its second nationwide fencing triumph in school history, joining its 2006 title. The Crimson previously finished as a runner-up during the second leg of Notre Dame's three-peat in 2022, coming within 21 points of the Irish.

During the 2024 team defeat, Notre Dame produced a special individual performance from senior sabreur Luke Linder. He took home the NCAA sabre title for the third time in the last four years, becoming the only male fencer in the history of Notre Dame fencing to take secure three NCAA individual titles. With the championship, Linder also staked his claim as the first men's sabre fencer since 2006 with three individual national crowns.

Men's Saber

In no other event than men's sabre did Notre Dame hold a wider margin of scoring against Harvard. Linder made simple work of the individual competition, helping the Irish post 36 points as a team and best the eventual champion Crimson with a 16-point margin. 

Linder went 22-1 in his round-robin bouts, exerting two days' worth of dominance on competition from around the country. His preliminary performance earned him the top seed entering the semifinals, in which he shot past Wayne State's Eyad Marouf by a count of 15-7. In the gold medal bout, Linder got the better of Penn State's Neil Lilov, winning by a 15-13 margin.

Junior Alexandre Lacaze also competed in the sabre for Notre Dame, posting a seventh-place finish with 14 round-robin victories.

Men's Foil

Penn controlled the men's foil portion of the competition, placing two fencers inside the top two to claim 35 points. Notre Dame put forth a respectable effort, notching 28 points with two fencers inside the top eight overall. Graduate student Marcello Olivares and senior Ziyuan Chen each compiled records of 14-9, with Olivares finishing in sixth place and Chen slotting in at eight place.

Men's Epée

Though Harvard handled the top of the leaderboard in this event, Notre Dame sent a fencer to the gold medal bout. Sophomore Jonathan Hamilton-Meikle concluded round-robin action as the field's No. 3 seed, entering the semifinals.

There, he defeated an ACC opponent in Allen Marakov of Duke before taking Princeton's Tristan Szapary down to the wire in the épée finale. Though, Szapary knocked off Hamilton-Meikle by a final score of 15-14, the young Irish fencer showed impressive year-to-year growth after an 11th-place finish at the 2023 NCAA Championships.

Combining the three men's weapons, Notre Dame ended the competition as the highest-scoring team. The Irish fencers compiled 88 points, clearing Harvard by six.

Harvard's performance in the women's weapons, however, proved too much for the defending champions to overcome. The Crimson notched 87 points in that aspect of the competition, significantly exceeding Notre Dame's 73.

Women's Sabre

Both top-two schools went quiet in the women's sabre, with Harvard posting 20 points to Notre Dame's 27. However, the Irish just missed an opportunity to put a fencer in the semifinals and raise their scoring ceiling. Senior Atara Greenbaum claimed fifth place with 14 round-robin victories, narrowly falling short of the desired top-four. Another top-10 finisher represented Notre Dame in the women's sabre, with junior Jadeyn Williams closing her season in ninth place.

The team totals indicated Princeton as the victor for the women's sabre weapon. Maggie Shealy of Brandeis took the individual title, winning both her bracket bouts by at least five points.

Women's Foil 

Harvard made a statement in the women's foil, producing a one-two finish to earn 11 points of headway on Notre Dame. Jessica Guo and Lauren Scruggs amassed 37 combined victories in the round-robin portion of the competition, securing the top two seeds in the bracket. The two then opposed one another in the gold medal bout, with Guo besting her Crimson teammate for the individual title.

To reach that point, Guo knocked off Notre Dame's Rebeca Candescu in the semifinal bouts. The junior Irish fencer entered the bracket as a No. 4 seed with 15 round-robin victories before falling 15-7 to the eventual champion. Notre Dame's other foil fencer, sophomore Josephina Conway, ended her weekend in 13th place.

Women's Epée

Similarly, Harvard gained major ground on Notre Dame in the women's épée. The Crimson placed individual fencers in first and sixth, with Emily Vermeule winning her way to an individual championship. On the other hand, Irish fencers senior Amanda Pirkowski and sophomore Michaela Joyce posted finishes of 16th and 18th place, respectively. Those outcomes appointed 30 points to Harvard and 20 to Notre Dame, who took eighth among the 15 teams that registered points in the weapon.