Despite High Hopes, Cats Can’t Improve On Last Year (Fencing)

Pritish Behuria

By Pritish BehuriaThe Daily Northwestern

Northwestern finished second at the Midwest Conference Championships, handing No. 1 Penn State its only defeat of the season and giving head coach Laurie Schiller the 900th win of his career.

The season looked great going into last weekend’s NCAA championships.

But the Wildcats didn’t improve on last season’s seventh-place finish.

“It’s a very, very tough tournament and has the top of the top fencers from all over the world,” Schiller said. “I think we didn’t do as well as we could have but that’s how it goes and we always think we could have done better.”

The Cats had five fencers out of a possible six qualify for the tournament.

Qualification is dependent on the fencer’s performances leading up to the tournament, and a maximum of two fencers from each school can qualify to compete in each weapon. Every team that finished above NU in the final standings had six fencers in the tournament.

“We were hoping to get six in the tournament but we knew it was going to be tough to get two in sabre,” Schiller said.

“Six was our goal but I knew going in that it was a reach.”

The NCAA tournament determines All-American qualifications, with the top 12 finishers in each weapon selected to three All-America teams.

The Cats had two second-team All-America qualifiers: freshman epeeist Christa French and sophomore foilist Samantha Nemecek.

French led the Cats with a sixth-place finish in the tournament.

After the first day of the competition, she was 11-3 and sitting comfortably in third place. The next day, she narrowly lost decisive bouts and missed out on a top-four finish and a first-team All-America selection.

“She did fantastically,” Schiller said. “She was within a couple of touches of a top-four finish and was really impressive.”

Nemecek looked unstoppable going into the tournament, with a 108-9 record.

She lost five bouts on a disappointing first day, and she was unable to come back from it, ending the weekend in seventh place.

“She just had a couple of bouts in which she wasn’t as strong as she usually is,” Schiller said. “In a tournament like this, other people are all strong and it can be very difficult.”

Freshman Kayley French was impressive for the Cats, finishing 14th.

Schiller was very pleased with Kayley’s performance, saying she lost a lot of her bouts in close one-touch finishes.

Senior Jessica Florendo did not qualify for All-America selection for the first time since her freshman year.

The two-time All-American finished a disappointing 16th.

“I know she’s disappointed,” Schiller said. “She had a tough first day and she fenced some good bouts but I don’t know what happened.”

In her third trip to the NCAA championships, Senior Mai Vu was NU’s lone sabreur in the tournament, and finished 22nd.

“For the seniors, they both did what they could,” Schiller said. “But we have a really good foundation for next year, and the kids are coming back, and I’m excited for next year.”

Reach Pritish Behuria at [email protected]