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Friday, June 14, 2024
The Observer

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Irish lose championship streak but post another high-caliber year

Notre Dame dominates ACC Fencer of the Year awards after finishing second nationally

It's never easy to lose an inspiring win streak, let alone a captivating run of national championships. Notre Dame fencing entered the 2023-24 season gunning for a fourth consecutive national title, a position which put plenty of pressure for success on the shoulders of each individual fencer. And although the Irish fell short of their ultimate goal of a four-peat on the national stage, coming eight points shy of team champion Harvard, Notre Dame still put forth plenty of dominance over the past year.

Just take a look at the ACC's end-of-season fencing awards, which were handed out two weeks after the NCAA Championships. Seven fencers from the conference received recognition as ACC Fencers of the Year in their respective weapons. Six of them belonged to Notre Dame. Two coaches from the conference shared the ACC Women's Coach of the Year award. One of them, now a seven-time ACC Coach of the Year award recipient, was Notre Dame head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia. She led the Irish women to a first-place team finish at the ACC Championships at the end of February.

On the men's side, Notre Dame brought home all three ACC Fencer of the Year awards given out this year. Senior Luke Linder, arguably the team's most dominant competitor, captured his second consecutive ACC Fencer of the Year honor in men's sabre. During the season, he delivered his second consecutive ACC and NCAA Championships in men's sabre, finishing No. 1 nationally in the Season Performance Index (SPI). Posting records of 40-9 in intercollegiate competition during the regular season and 22-1 in the NCAA round robin, Linder continued to prove himself as the nation's premier sabrist.

Graduate student Marcello Olivares also brought in his second consecutive ACC Fencer of the Year award in men's foil. Finishing with a ranking of 16th in the SPI, Olivares took sixth at the NCAA Championships to earn Second-Team All-American status. He ended the regular season with a 26-7 mark in intercollegiate bouts.

Sophomore Jonathan Hamilton-Meikle kept getting better as the postseason moved along for the Irish, resulting in ACC Fencer of the Year distinction in men's epeé. Hamilton-Meikle finished as the silver medalist in both the ACC Championships and the NCAA Championships, solidifying his performance as worthy of First-Team All-American recognition. Going 29-11 in intercollegiate competition throughout the regular season and 16-7 in NCAA round-robin play, the Hungarian ended the year ranked at No. 10 by the SPI.

The women's side of Notre Dame fencing also produced an ACC Fencer of the Year in all three weapons. Senior Atara Greenbaum posted outstanding records throughout the season en route to winning the award in women's sabre. She went 29-8 in the regular season's intercollegiate competition before accumulating a 14-1 mark in the round-robin portion of the ACC Championships. As a result, Greenbaum finished the campaign ranked fifth nationally according to the SPI.

Junior Rebeca Candescu found similar success as she shared the women's foil ACC Fencer of the Year honors with Christina Ferrari of Duke. Candescu managed a tie for the bronze medal at the NCAA Championships, also ending the season ranked No. 5 in the nation based on the SPI. Before that, she looked even stronger in the regular season, controlling her opponents to the tune of a 35-6 record in intercollegiate action.

Finally, Amanda Pirkowski stood alone as the ACC Fencer of the Year in women's epeé. The senior produced a major moment for the team's success at the ACC Championships, winning a crucial, tie-breaking fence-off to take fourth place individually and help Notre Dame walk away with the team title. Throughout the season, she went 28-15 in intercollegiate competition before posting an 11-2 record in the round-robin section of ACCs.

Though the Irish will lose a few top fencers to eligibility heading into the 2024-25 season, they return several depth pieces that played significant roles in this year's postseason. On the women's side, sophomore foil Josephina Conway and junior sabrist Jadeyn Williams both took first place in their respective weapons during the regional round of the NCAA Tournament this year. Sophomore epeé Sedna Gandhi also captured gold in the individual portion of the ACC Championships. For the men, freshman foil Dominic Joseph and sophomore epeé Noah Silvers each shined at the ACC Championships, winning their respective weapons.