Fencing: Cats qualify 4 for NCAA tournament

Matt Forman

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After fencing for five months, Northwestern’s season is coming to a close. The team went through morning weightlifting sessions twice a week, practiced nearly every day and competed in events since October, but this is where the season will end.

“It definitely takes its toll after a while,” junior Sam Nemecek said. “Just a couple weeks ago after competing for so long, my body was just ready to give out. You work hard and your body just wears down. It will take a while to recover and Spring Break will be a welcomed thing.”

Nemecek was one of four Wildcats who qualified to compete at the NCAA Championships, which will take place in Columbus, Ohio, March 13-16. In order to qualify for the national competition, 10 Cats fenced at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Detroit last weekend, with the possibility of qualifying six total, two in each of the three weapons. NU qualified two fencers in both foil and epee, but none in sabre.

“We had hoped for five overall, and it was really close to getting one more in sabre,” coach Laurie Schiller said. “It didn’t happen, we just missed out. But I think we have four really strong kids and I know all of them can do very, very well.”

In epee, sophomore Christa French placed second out of 20 competitors in the regional competition, NU’s top individual finisher. While French automatically qualified for NCAA Championships, Joanna Niklinska earned an at-large bid after placing eighth.

In foil, Nemecek placed fourth out of 13 qualifiers for the national competition. Senior Natalie Wang received an at-large bid after placing ninth.

Each of NU’s four qualifying fencers will compete in a round robin pool of 24, and will earn a point for each bout they win. All-America honors go to the top eight finalists in each weapon, and the total number of bouts won also contributes to a team score.

“Obviously with four kids it will be difficult to win the overall thing when other teams have six qualified,” Schiller said. “Nevertheless, I expect to have a good result. I still think we can finish in the top 10, but it would be nice if we could finish seventh or eighth.”

A season ago NU finished seventh in the team competition and had two fencers earn All-America honors. Both French and Nemecek were second-team All-Americans.

“I think all four of them are good enough to be All-Americans,” Schiller said. “That would be really exciting and I think they can all do it.”

Nemecek has earned second-team All-America honors each of the last two seasons and hopes to do the same this year.

“Making it out on the top would be amazing,” Nemecek said. “But, to be honest, it doesn’t mean that much more to be first team.

“The difference between first and second team is so small, just a couple of bouts. I’d be satisfied with second team again, but at the same time I’m definitely going to try for first.”