Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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42 FEBRUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE W ith an undefeated start through three tournaments so far this sea- son, a roster loaded with talented athletes in every weapon and category and a quest underway for a second straight and a 12th overall NCAA national fencing title, Notre Dame head coach Gia Kvaratskhe- lia likes his chances to repeat. However, he prefers not to use the word "repeat" when discussing his team's mission com- ing over the next four months. "Repeat is a rhetorical term," said Kvaratskhelia, who has coached the Irish to three of their 11 team titles (2017, 2018 and 2021). "We have a chance to earn something again. Our mindset is to forge another path to strive for another possible title. "But yes, we'll be one of a few teams that will have an opportunity at this title." In a niche sport that only a small percentage of U.S. colleges offer, Kvar- atskhelia estimated that about half a dozen college teams have a shot at win- ning the title. And while Kvaratskhelia's team is plenty re-fortified, he still must replace at least two of the best fencers not only from last season but also in program history. The two most notable graduation voids to fill are Stefani Deschner, the 2020-21 team MVP and the 2021 NCAA women's individual foil champion, and on the men's side, also gone is epee standout Ariel Simmons, a three-time All-American and the only fencer in Notre Dame program history to secure three team NCAA championship titles during his career. But the cupboards are far from bare. Notre Dame returns two All-Ameri- can sabre specialists with Luke Linder, a sophomore, and senior Jared Smith, who are both back after finishing first and second, respectively, at the NCAA Championships last season. Also on the men's side, Marcello Olivares and Andrew Machovec return after first- and second-place finishes, respectively, in foil at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Senior Stephen Ewart, who was sec- ond nationally in epee, is also back. Add to this already loaded men's lineup the return of senior Nick Itkin — already a two-time individual NCAA national champion in foil (2018, 2019) and a member of the U.S. men's Olym- pic foil team that earned a bronze medal in Tokyo — and this reigning title team will be hard to knock off. "Having Nick Itkin back will be a huge asset for us," Kvaratskhelia said. On the women's side, sophomore Kaylin Hsieh headlines a strong one- two punch in the epee. Hsieh competed for China in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and finished second nationally for Notre Dame in the 2021 NCAA Champion- ships. Senior Miriam Grady is also back after finishing third nationally in the event last year. Put it all together, and even with a couple of significant roster losses from last season, the Irish are still consid- ered the favorite to win another national title. Kvaratskhelia prepared this talented group by front-loading his early season fall schedule with multiple elite events to best prepare for the upcoming tour- naments that matter most, beginning with the USA Fencing North American Cup Jan. 9-12 in San Jose, Calif. "So far we've done pretty well and let's see how we hold up because our hardest part of the schedule is coming up," Kvaratskhelia said. "Barring that we don't have any catastrophic injuries, we should be in good shape to contend for the title." ✦ Notre Dame Fencing Primed For A 12th National Title Run Sophomore Luke Linder was one of four Irish fencers to earn individual titles at the 2021 NCAA Championships, winning the men's sabre. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS ND SPORTS Irish Roundup HOCKEY (13-6-0 OVERALL, 6-4-0 BIG TEN) No. 13 Notre Dame suffered a surprising 3-1 loss to Niagara in its first game back from break Jan. 1, but rebounded with a dominant 5-0 win the next night with Trevor Janicke and Cam Burke tallying two goals apiece.

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