INDIANAPOLIS -- The University of Notre Dame fencing program clinched its ninth national title on Sunday, capping four days of dominance at the 2017 National Collegiate Fencing Championships at the Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Fighting Irish clinched the championship in the fourth round with a 5-1 win by senior Lee Kiefer over Cornell’s Lyubov Kiriakidi on the foil strip.
Kiefer kept the historical moments coming later in the day, taking her fourth foil individual title and becoming just the third collegiate fencer to earn four weapon titles. NYU’s Michael Lofton won four sabre titles from 1984 through 1987 and Penn State’s Olga Kalinovskaya won four consecutive foil titles from 1993 to 1996.
It is the first national team title for the Irish since 2011, when the Irish tallied 174 points to defeat Penn State (168) and St. John’s (155). It is also the first national title as head coach for Gia Kvaratskhelia, who was an assistant coach on Janusz Bednarski’s staff during the 2011 title run.
Notre Dame’s final total of 186 points are the most for the Irish in a title victory and the most for a winning team since Penn State’s 191 total in 2010.
How It Happened - Sabre
While Kiefer clinched the title in the fourth round of foil on Sunday, sabre was the first weapon to finish up its five preliminary rounds. Junior Francesca Russo put herself in position for a second individual national title by finishing pool play ranked first with a 20-3 record.
Sophomore Tara Hassett finished 15th in the final sabre rankings with an 11-12 record.
Russo was matched up with St. John’s Mathilda Taharo in the first sabre semifinal, whom she bested 5-2 in the preliminaries. After a back-and-forth start to the bout, Russo took control with three consecutive points to build a 4-3 lead. Taharo matched with two points to take the lead briefly back, but Russo answered to score four of the next five points and own an 8-6 lead at the break.
The second part of the bout was a one-sided affair, as Russo closed out Taharo by scoring six of the final eight points for a 15-9 victory and a spot in the championship round against Penn State’s Teodora Kakhiani.
Russo and Kakhiani ended the championship with a dramatic and thrilling bout. After falling behind 0-2, Russo evened the match at 2-2 and the two competitors then battled back and forth throughout the rest of the match. After the break, Russo and Kakhiani traded two-point scoring streaks with Russo evening the match 9-9 on a replay appeal.
Russo edged ahead 10-9, but Kakhiani came right back to score two in a row, including an unusual point where she lost her footing at the very far end of the strip. Russo missed a score and Kakhiani would take advantage to go up 11-10.
Kakhiani would eventually take a 14-13 lead and reach match point. Russo buckled down and quickly evened the match on a quick strike to bring up the dramatic final point. Kakhiani attacked and Russo took a step back and stumbled. Before Kakhiani could take the advantage, Russo recovered and tapped her on the shoulder to claim her second national championship.
“It was a crazy bout,” Russo said after the victory. “Teodora is so good with her defense and her attack is so quick. I was really trying to work on my defense but I was struggling at times. Sabre is a mind game and a roller coaster.”
How It Happened - Foil
Kiefer moved on to the semifinals in foil, finishing 20-3 in the five rounds of bouts and 8-0 on Saturday.
Sophomore Sabrina Massialas faced some hard luck in the final standings, however. Finishing with a 19-4 record, Massialas matched Ohio State’s Eleanor Harvey and Alanna Goldie in overall record, but ended up in fifth place on indicators (49) to Harvey (58).
Kiefer matched up Harvey for the second foil semifinal, looking to rebound from a 2-5 loss in the preliminaries. The early portion of the bout was even, with Kiefer jumping out to a 3-0 lead only to see Harvey score three consecutive points.
Kiefer took a 4-3 lead into the first break, then fell behind 5-6 when Harvey scored three straight points. It was at that point, however, when the world’s No. 1 FIE ranked foilist decided to seize control of the bout. The Versaille, Kentucky native ripped off eight consecutive unanswered points for an insurmountable 13-7 lead at the final break. Kiefer then ended the match with two quick points to set up a championship bout with Ohio State’s Alanna Goldie.
In that championship bout, Kiefer took control early by scoring five of the first six points. Goldie regained her footing and the two fencers traded two-point streaks until 30 seconds before the first break.
Kiefer had an 8-5 lead but the match was interrupted when the pipe and drape background behind the championship strip fell toward the competition strip. No one was was hurt, but the match was delayed for approximately 10 minutes while the stage was reset.
After that break Kiefer increased her lead by one point during the second three minutes and entered the final period with an 11-7 advantage.
With four titles in her sight Kiefer wasted little time taking control after the break. Three straight points put the championship in reach as her teammates gathered around the strip in anticipation of victory, which Kiefer earned with a 15-9 win.
“I’m at a loss of words,” Kiefer said right after the match. “This has been a goal for this whole season. This is an amazing team and I am so proud of everything that they have done and this is just icing on the cake. It feels so good. We have been so close so many times, but we have been a strong team and worked so well together.”
How It Happened - Epee
Sophomore Amanda Sirico was the third semifinalist for the Irish, giving the national champions one for each weapon on the day. Sircio finished the preliminaries with a 20-3 record and matched Keifer’s unbeaten record on Sunday with an 8-0 record over the final two rounds.
Sophomore Madeline Antekeier matched her 14th place finish from a year ago in her second consecutive NCAA epee appearance and finished with a 10-13 record.
Sirico faced Princeton’s Anna Van Brummen in the second epee semifinal. Van Brummen had earned a 3-1 victory when both fencers met in the preliminary rounds. Like most matches in the national semifinals, the fencers were even at the start, with Van Brummen earning the first point, then Sirico scoring before two matching points moved the score to 3-3 at the first break.
Van Brummen took control in the second round, outscoring Sirico 7-5 and boasting a 10-8 lead into the final three minutes. Two quick points from Van Brummen pushed her lead to four points and an eventual 15-10 victory.
Sirico caps her first NCAA Championship appearance in a tie for third place and first-team All-America honors.