Fencing stays sharp: 5th consecutive 30-plus win season

Sarah Kuta

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After each dual meet, coach Laurie Schiller has his own special way of recognizing outstanding athleticism: Not a pat on the back, not a gold star, but a Wildcat.

Junior Christa French and freshman Becky Grohman were the recipients of the “Cat-of-the-Week” award after this weekend’s meets, which means they will be wearing their new Willie the Wildcat stickers proudly on their helmets.

The Wildcats finished their regular season by winning all seven of their matches at the Notre Dame Duals and defeating both Duke and North Carolina at the Duke Duals last weekend. Northwestern finished the year with a 34-7 record, surpassing the 30-win mark for the fifth year in a row.

“I was very pleased,” Schiller said. “The whole team was solid from top to bottom.”

After competing against Duke and North Carolina on Saturday in Durham, N.C. the team travelled back to Evanston, only to leave again for another seven matches at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. With all of that travelling, Schiller expected an off day on Sunday, but the team didn’t let that happen.

“They handled it just fine,” Schiller said. “It was a satisfying weekend.”

Senior Sam Nemecek led the foil team at Notre Dame, finishing out the season with a 38-3 overall record. Nemecek is only 13 wins away from the school record with a career 392-65, just behind 2007 graduate Jessica Florendo.

“Sam did well this weekend. She always holds up her end,” Schiller said. “Sam’s driving towards breaking the all-time victory mark. Between the conference, regionals and the NCAAs she certainly has enough chances to get those wins that she needs.”

French passed the career 200-win mark this weekend, finishing 9-1 at Notre Dame and moving her career record to 213-67. French helped the epee team to finish 49-14 at the meet and 37-4 for the season.

“We have a really large epee squad,” French said. “But we all contribute to the team. We’re more cohesive as a team than last year. We work better together.”

Grohman finished her first season for NU with a 20-0 record, sweeping all three of her bouts at Notre Dame. Though the tournament was next to a hockey rink, Grohman thought the team did a good job of staying warm and focused throughout the day.

“We did a really good job of pushing through and fencing the way we wanted to fence despite the circumstances,” Gorman said. “Some of the teams were more challenging than others, but we really finished solid.”

The Cats will compete in the Midwest Conference Championships with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Midwest Regionals and then the NCAA Championships. While fencing requires athleticism, mental preparation also plays a large role.

“Everyone has their own way of getting in the zone. We told the girls to develop a routine before competing so that their bodies know it’s not just practice anymore,” Schiller said. “We’ve also worked with the girls to set goals and think positively. A lot of it is just good visualization.”

The team’s goal for the rest of the season is to win the conference championships and to qualify the maximum number of fencers, six women, for the championships.

“I’m really proud of us,” Grohman said. “I think that we can carry the momentum into the next couple weeks where it’s going to be challenging. I’m really confident that we can reach our goals for the season.”