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Friday, April 12, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame fencing enters NCAA Championships seeking elusive four-peat

Dominant Irish head to Columbus, Ohio, having won five of the last six team titles

It’s been almost five full years since a fencing team not named Notre Dame won a National Championship. The Irish have been that good, standing alone at the season’s end in 2021, 2022 and 2023 after COVID-19 erased the 2020 championships.

Now, Notre Dame fencing chases a fourth consecutive title at this weekend’s NCAA Championships. Looking to become the first team since Penn State in 1998 to win four straight, the Irish won’t have to travel far. This weekend’s competition begins Thursday and will play out at Ohio State’s French Field House in Columbus, Ohio.

The first two days of the event will feature the three women’s weapons — épée, foil and sabre. Thursday will include the first three rounds of five-touch, round-robin bouts for each weapon, while Friday will cover rounds four and five along with the 15-touch semifinal and championship bouts. The men will have the same setup between Saturday and Sunday.

Women’s weapons

Notre Dame’s female fencers enter this week’s matches with a championship pedigree already attached. The Irish women captured a third consecutive ACC Championship in late February, defeating Boston College and North Carolina before topping Duke in a fence-off.

In the épée, the lone women’s weapon that Notre Dame topped the leaderboard in last year, Amanda Pirkowski and Michaela Joyce will represent the Irish. Pirkowski, a senior, comes off individual victories in the ACC Championship and the NCAA Midwest Regional. She placed eighth in épée in the 2022 NCAA Championships. 

Joyce, a sophomore, earned a third-place finish in the regional round and will be competing in her first NCAA Championship.

The women’s foil will bring Josephina Conway and Rebeca Candescu into the fray for Notre Dame. Conway, a sophomore and native of Mishawaka, Ind., enters with the momentum of a first-place performance in the Midwest Regional. She also received Women’s Most Valuable Fencing honors in the ACC Championships after winning the individual foil crown and clinching the fence-off win against Duke.

Candescu, a junior, finished third in this year’s regional but brings more big-stage experience than Conway. Last year, she won the women’s foil in the NCAA Midwest Regional en route to a ninth-place NCAA Championship finish and honorable mention All-American honors. Candescu also captured the ACC Foil Championship in 2022 before taking third in the regional round.

The women’s sabre will feature Notre Dame’s Jadeyn Williams and Atara Greenbaum. Williams, a junior, has now competed in the last three year’s worth of ACC Championships and Midwest Regionals. She took first place in this year’s regional round after winning the ACC’s bronze medal bout.

Greenbaum enters her fourth season as a sabreuse in the NCAA Tournament. The senior took 11th place in 2021, second place in 2022 and 13th place a year ago. With a come-from-behind ACC title match win and a second-place regional finish behind her, Greenbaum carries momentum into this year’s finale.

Men’s weapons

The men’s side of the fencing team enjoyed a slightly stronger regular season before taking second in the ACC Championships. It will also send six competitors to Columbus for the NCAA Championships.

Valentin Matveev and Jonathan Hamilton-Meikle will represent Notre Dame in the men’s épée. Matveev, a graduate student, makes his return to the biggest stage after missing the 2022 and 2023 seasons. He qualified for the 2020 and 2021 NCAA Championships and brings experience from the Junior World Cup and Junior World Championships teams. Matveev took gold in this year’s Midwest Regional, while Hamilton-Meikle occupied second place.

A sophomore from Hungary, Hamilton-Meikle impressed nationally as a freshman in 2023. He posted an 11th-place finish in the NCAA Championships, garnering honorable mention All-American honors. Two weeks before his runner-up regional result, he took second to fellow sophomore Noah Silvers in the ACC Championships.

Notre Dame dominated the men’s foil in last year’s NCAA Championships, accumulating 39 points — seven clear of runner-up Princeton. This year, the Irish will send Marcello Olivares and Ziyuan Chen. 

Olivares, who factored into Notre Dame’s standout performance with a third-place result last year, brings a wealth of national accolades to the table. The graduate student earned first-team All-American status in 2020 and 2021, becoming the national men’s foil champion in the latter year. He received recognition as the ACC Men’s Foilist of the Year in 2023 and took second in this season’s Midwest Regional.

New to the NCAA Championship scene, Chen followed Olivares with a bronze effort in the regional round. The sophomore went 20-2 during his first collegiate season in 2023, quickly warning the faith of his coaching staff.

Finally, the men’s sabre brings Luke Linder and Alexandre Lacaze from South Bend to Columbus. Linder, an individual national champion in 2021 and 2023, obtained All-American status in each of his first three seasons. Notre Dame’s most accomplished sabreur has cruised through his senior-year postseason, taking first place in the ACC Championships and the Midwest Regional.

Lacaze, on the other hand, will make his NCAA Championships debut this weekend. The junior Frenchman posted a fourth-place finish in the regional round.

The 2024 NCAA Fencing Championships get underway on Thursday at 9 a.m. with rounds one through three of the women’s épée, continuing through Sunday in Columbus.