Fencing: Cats fall to ranked opponents at home duals

Dan Ryan

There are few programs in the NCAA in which a 7-3 showing over a weekend of meets would be a letdown, but Northwestern is one of them.

Despite improving to 29-6, the Wildcats lost all three of their matches against ranked opponents and failed to achieve their goal of sweeping the weekend’s meets.

“We were disappointed not to beat any of the top three teams this past weekend,” coach Laurie Schiller said. “But we fought hard after slow starts.”

No. 7 NU kicked off their competition Saturday with a rematch against UC San Diego and wasted no time in getting in the win column, dispatching the Tritons 23-4 behind a 9-0 showing by the foil squad.

The Cats could not overcome their next two opponents, losing to Temple 12-15 before dropping their next match against conference foe Ohio State 18-9. The foil team posted a 4-5 record in both matches, losing for the first time in two weeks and back-to-back for the first time all season.

The rest of Saturday’s matches would pose no problems for NU: the Cats defeated Fairleigh Dickinson 22-5 and Cal Tech 24-3.

On Sunday, the Cats carried their momentum and blew by their first two opponents, taking their matches against Stanford and North Carolina 20-7 and 26-1, respectively.

But a ranked foe once again tripped the Cats up midday.

NU lost its only match Sunday 11-16 against No. 4 Princeton when all three weapons failed to take home a victory.

Despite the loss, the Cats closed out the day – and a very tough stretch of their schedule – with a bang, blanking Detroit 27-0 before crushing Cleveland State 23-4.

“We’ve had a long month, but no excuses,” Schiller said. “We need to find a way to close out the stronger teams, and that is why we just keep working hard on the practice floor.”

At roughly the halfway point in the season, the team is still performing well despite failing to meet its own high standards. The sabre and epée teams, although inexperienced, are fencing well, and the foil team has been a sensation.

“I’m really proud of us,” sophomore foilist Dayana Sarkisova said. “We’ve been winning all the matches we’re supposed to win and even winning some of the ones we weren’t supposed to win. That’s the sign of a strong team.”

At 260-55, the foil team has been a major part of the Wildcats’ success all season. As good as the team was last year, this season’s team is outperforming them, and for Sarkisova, the explanation comes down to intangibles.

“We have really great chemistry as a squad, and we’re really supportive of each other,” Sarkisova said. “We were good last year and we realized we got even stronger this year. That increased confidence made us even better.”

After this weekend, the Cats’ schedule softens considerably. Dual meets at Duke and Northwestern will be broken up by the USFA National Junior Olympics Feb. 18-21, and then postseason play begins.

“This weekend marks the end of the tough stuff,” Schiller said. “After that we have Duke, and they’re tough, but then it’s really only club matches and then conference will be the next focus.”

As the schedule draws to a close, NU’s focus only intensifies.

“There’s going to be some really strong teams there, but I think we’re the strongest in the country,” Sarkisova said. “It’s definitely time to start sweeping the rest of these meets.”

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