Matt Forman

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Growing up fewer than 10 miles from Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend, Ind., Northwestern sophomore Joanna Niklinska knows a good bit about the Fighting Irish.

And returning home couldn’t have been a better experience for Niklinska, whose performance at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships highlighted her trip home to Granger, Ind.

Niklinska placed third in epée in Saturday’s individual part of the event, the highest finish in that weapon for NU. She went 5-0 in pool play before winning her first three duals in the direct-elimination bracket. In the semifinal round, Niklinska lost to Kaela Brendler of Ohio State, 15-9.

“It was great to perform well at Notre Dame because the crowd of people that I knew got to see how far I’ve come over the past two years as a person and as a fencer,” Niklinska said.

“And even the Notre Dame coach, who’s a really close family friend of mine, came up to me and said ‘Congratulations, you did great.’ That meant a lot to me too.”

NU also had strong performances in epée by Kayley French (fifth), Sarah Henning (seventh) and Megan Ross (10th).

In foil, junior Sam Nemecek placed second for the third consecutive year. Nemecek went undefeated in pool play, won her first four matches in bracket play but lost to Oksana Dmytruk of Ohio State in the finals, 15-5.

Wildcats Natalie Wang (sixth), Meredith Baskies (eighth) and Irisa Chen (10th), also finished near the top of the foil standings.

Freshman Jill Mahen placed eighth in sabre, while Allie Keller placed ninth and Adrienne Shon placed 11th.

The individual competition featured seven Cats finishing in the top eight of their respective weapons, an impressive accomplishment considering only one of those seven will graduate.

“Every year I feel like this team gets stronger and stronger,” senior captain Natalie Wang said. “We’re a unit. People grow from their mistakes and step up and mature. There’s constant improvement.”

Team competition on Sunday followed the individual meet Saturday. The No. 4 Cats placed third behind No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Notre Dame. The Buckeyes edged host Notre Dame 650-645, while NU finished with 610 points.

In order to gain points, each weapon’s squad competed for placing. NU placed second in epée, tied for second in foil and earned a fourth place finish in sabre. The foil squad was two-time defending conference champion, but came up just short in the championship, losing by one touch.

“I was disappointed that we didn’t get the three-peat, but as a captain, all you can ask is that everyone fights hard,” Wang said. “I think that happened. Everyone fought and gave it their best to the last touch.”

With the majority of their season over, top individual fencers will compete in Detroit on Sunday at the NCAA Midwest Regional, a qualifying event for the national championships, where Niklinska said she hopes to continue her success.

“I didn’t get a chance to go to NCAA Championships last year, so I’d like to be able to make it this year,” Niklinska said. “I think I can do very well, but we’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to jinx myself.”