Fencing: NU hopes to finish season strong in South Bend

Matt Forman

As the old adage says: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Northwestern has had a tumultuous season highlighted by injuries, a freak car accident and players leaving the team. While fall quarter brought hardships, the early struggles won’t be remembered; it’s the season’s body of work that’s important.

“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve gotten this far and done so well this season,” junior foilist Sam Nemecek said. “I think it’s really awesome that we’ve done so well this season, and we’re going to end the season on a positive note this weekend.”

NU hopes to end its season well in South Bend, Ind., at the Midwest Conference Championships. The fourth-ranked Cats will have to face conference rivals and national powerhouses No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Notre Dame among 17 opponents at the tournament. Just a season ago the Cats finished tied for second with Notre Dame, with each team finishing 20 points behind Ohio State for first.

The two-day event features both individual and team competitions. Saturday’s individual bouts start with pool play and then direct elimination brackets to determine the conference’s top fencer in each weapon. Sunday’s team duals crown the conference’s top team based on individual seeding and how they fared against each other earlier in the season.

Coach Laurie Schiller said the team has prepared all season long for the grueling event.

“We’ve prepared them all season with hard fencing and good matches,” Schiller said. “How we do will depend on how everyone approaches the weekend and how we get going.”

Northwestern jumped from sixth to fourth in the most recent United States Fencing Association Coaches’ Poll.

The poll showed that three of the nation’s top four teams are from the Midwest Fencing Conference, making the competition extremely tight. NU lost to the top-ranked Buckeyes 18-9 and to No. 2 Notre Dame 15-12 earlier in the season.

“On the one hand you want to fence good teams,” Schiller said. “It makes you better and makes the championship worth more. On the other hand if we went to the West Coast and fenced in their conference we would beat all of the teams without any difficulty.”

Regardless of the Midwest Fencing Conference’s power, NU refuses to back down.

“It will be fun as it always is, but we are out to kick ass,” Nemecek said. “We are out to take names. This is what we’ve worked up to the entire year. And I don’t think any of us are that intimidated because we know we can beat these people. We have before and we will again.”

In order for NU to beat the nation’s top-ranked opponents, everything has to fall into place at the right time, according to Schiller.

The team effort starts from the top, where senior sabreist Gina Annunziato returning to the Cats lineup from a knee injury is one step in the right direction. Freshman sabreist Jill Mahen has also been recovering from her car accident, fencing each of the past three weekends.

Meanwhile, NU’s foil squad is two-time defending conference champion. Nemecek finished second in foil, the top individual finish for a Cat a year ago. With a repeat performance by the two-time Second-Team All-America selection, NU should repeat as foil champions.

“I truly believe we will be conference champions again this year in foil,” she said. “We have a lot of heart, and that’s something that some of those other squads are lacking as a team. They might have heart as individuals, but they don’t have the type of unity that our foil squad has.”

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