Fencing: Cats ranked sixth in first coaches’ poll

Matt Forman

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After a strong four-day performance at the United States Fencing Association North American Cup in Atlanta this weekend, Northwestern finally learned where it stacks up nationally.

The Wildcats’ showing helped them earn the No. 6 ranking in the United States Fencing Coaches Association Coaches’ Poll, which was released for the first time this season after the weekend.

“I think that it’s pretty reasonable,” coach Laurie Schiller said of the team’s ranking. “It’s still early in the dual meet season, so it’s hard to say exactly where everyone should be. We’ll see how this weekend impacts things.”

NU’s top finishers in each weapon were sophomore Kayley French, who placed fifth out of 138 fencers in epée, junior Sam Nemecek, who finished 27th in foil, and senior Gina Annunziato, the lone participant in sabre, finished 85th. The competition was an individual event, so the Cats did not compete as a team.

“Sam ran into a bit of unfortunate luck, and Gina’s knees were in tough shape this weekend,” said Schiller. “(Gina) didn’t want to overextend too much. But I think the girls did well.”

Other than Kayley French, NU had five fencers compete and place in epée: Joanna Niklinska, 33rd; Christa French, 75th; Nicole Tilley, 91st; Megan Ross, 121st; and Sarah Henning, 130th.

In foil, freshman Lisa Sachs placed 97th.

But the Cats performance this weekend came at a high cost. Christa French, who earned second-team All-America honors a year ago, struggled in Atlanta with a nagging hamstring injury the team had kept hidden.

“I feel like Christa French is every bit as good Kayley,” said Schiller. “But she has a bit of a (hamstring) injury which we haven’t been talking about.”

Injuries are inevitable, but getting healthy for the latter part of the season will be most important, Schiller said.

“It’s just the bumps and bruises of a season,” Schiller said. “Every sport just gruels. It really is a tough, long season. With Gina, she’s just got bad knees. All she can do is put up with it. I’m hopeful Christa will get over the hamstring.”

If the Cats hope to hold onto their top-10 ranking, the team needs to get healthy soon.

NU travels to New York for the New York University Duals on Saturday. NU will face the nation’s top three teams: Notre Dame, Ohio State and Columbia.

“We’re going to have three very, very tough matches,” Schiller said. “It all depends on how each squad responds to that. We have a good chance to win if they can put it together.”

NU fenced two teams now ranked in the top 10 at the Temple Open two weekends ago. The Cats defeated No. 8 University of Pennsylvania 14-13 and No. 9 Temple University 18-9.

Harvard, St. John’s and Princeton are the only teams remaining in the top-10 that the Cats will not have competed against by the end of the weekend.

The Cats will also fence against Yale University, Wayne State University and NYU this weekend – three matches NU should take, Schiller said. The three tougher matches will dictate the Cats’ next ranking and solidify where the team stacks up less than a month away from the Midwest Conference Championships.

Reach Matt Forman at matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu.