Fencing: Sarkisova leads Northwestern at NCAAs

Jonah L. Rosenblum

Dayana Sarkisova made it into the Northwestern record book with her remarkable performance at the NCAA Championships. The Wildcats were unable to take advantage, however, finishing eighth in the women’s national standings.

Sarkisova went 20-3 in round-robin pool play, earning the No. 2 seed. Although she fell in the semifinals to Penn State’s Doris Willette, Sarkisova still finished third, tying Katie Rudkin for the highest finish ever by an NU fencer.

“She said she was going to win,” coach Laurie Schiller said. “She’s got that sort of championship attitude, which is ‘I’m going to go out there and get it done,’ and obviously she did. We were very pleased and proud of her.”

Two of Sarkisova’s four losses on the day came against Willette, last year’s NCAA foil champion. The freshman lost to Willette 5-0 in round-robin play before falling 15-2 in the semifinals.

“She is just so athletic that things that would work with other people, and maybe would even work with her, the only reason they don’t is because she is so fast and so strong,” Sarkisova said. “I wasn’t upset. I only get upset when I lose matches I should have won, and she outplayed me in every way.”

Although Sarkisova was unable to advance to the championship match, her strong performance in round-robin play earned her first-team All-American honors. She is the fourth NU fencer and first foilist to earn that distinction.

“It took a few days to sink in, and I’m not even sure it’s sunk in now,” Sarkisova said. “It’s really nice because fencing is not a sport that gets a lot of recognition and it’s not a big sport, but the term first team All-American is with every collegiate sport, so it’s nice to have that recognition. I didn’t realize how cool it was when it first happened, but then I realized that only four people got that term next to their name, and that sort of put it in perspective for me.”

Sarkisova’s performance at nationals was a fitting cap to a strong year for the freshman. She went 78-15 this season, posting a .839 winning percentage, the best of any starter.

She went on a tremendous postseason tear, finishing second at the Midwest Conference Championships with an 11-1 record, and then coming in fifth at the NCAA Midwest Regionals with an 8-2 mark. Her run to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship came as a surprise to many.

“In a way it was surprising to a lot of people,” Sarkisova said, “But I just did what I committed to NU to doing, so I’m happy with my performance and I hope that my coaches are too.”

Sarkisova was the only NU fencer to make it out of round-robin play. Senior epéeist Christa French also made a run, but she came five wins short, ultimately posting a 13-10 record. Although French failed to make it out of round-robin play, her 10th-place finish was good enough to earn her honorable mention All-American status.

“I wanted to do better,” French said. “I wanted to find a way to get top eight and I just missed that by a little bit, but overall I was happy with the way I fenced.”

French became only the third NU fencer to be an All-American four times with her performance.

“It’s great,” French said. “I made it all the way to my last year, so it kind of completes everything.”

The other three NU fencers struggled, finishing with sub-.500 records. Senior Kayley French had a rough go of it, finishing 16th with an 8-15 record. Sophomore Devynn

Patterson also suffered a setback, finishing 21st with a 7-16 record after finishing 13th with an 11-13 record the year before.

NU had just one representative in sabre, Alicia Gurrieri. The freshman struggled in her first NCAA Championship appearance, finishing 22nd with a 5-18 record.

Overall the Cats combined for 53 points, which put them behind seven teams, including two squads they beat earlier this year-Columbia and Ohio State.

This was due in large part to the fact that the Cats only qualified five fencers for the NCAA Championships out of a possible six. All of the teams ahead of them-with the exception of Ohio State-qualified six.

“We only qualified five and that’s 23 bouts that we didn’t have a chance to win,” Schiller said. “If we have six fencers, we probably finish higher.”

The Cats’ eighth-place finish in Cambridge, Mass., concluded a strong season in which they set a school record for wins, going 45-4 on the season.

The core of the foil and sabre squads will be back next year, while the epée team will have to deal with the loss of three of its top fencers: Joanna Niklinska and Christa and Kayley French. However freshmen Kate Cavanaugh and Karalina Collins finished with a record of 91-23, a sign of what is to come for the Cats.

Having so many gifted players come back gives Schiller confidence heading into next season.

“I’m sorry to lose the seniors, but we have good kids coming up,” Schiller said. “For next year, I’m very confident we’ll have another excellent season. The girls should do as well as they did this year, and who knows, maybe even better.”[email protected]