Fencing: Wildcats snag bronze before heading to postseason

Freshman foilist Charlotte Sands competes during the NU Duals. The Wildcats fell to regional rival Notre Dame at the Notre Dame Duals over the weekend.

Daily file photo by Skylar Zhang

Freshman foilist Charlotte Sands competes during the NU Duals. The Wildcats fell to regional rival Notre Dame at the Notre Dame Duals over the weekend.

Abbey Chase, Reporter

Facing a tough Notre Dame crowd in South Bend, Ind. on Saturday, the Wildcats began their final weekend of regular season competition at the Notre Dame Duals.

Northwestern cruised in its first four matches of the day, taking out its opponents with ease and winning by 8 points or more in every match. 

“What I liked about the other matches is that we did not use our traditional starters against almost all of them,” said associate head coach Ed Kaihatsu, who led the team over the weekend because coach Laurie Schiller was unable to travel. “I wanted to give them a chance to get some quality time in and … they took took care of everything and stayed in control of it the entire time against all the other schools, so I was extremely happy with that because it showed our depth as a team.”

But against the No. 1 team in the country, not even the Cats’ top fencers could outmatch the Fighting Irish. NU previously met Notre Dame this season at the NYU Invitational in January, with the Fighting Irish taking the match 19-8. But NU hung tough in that dual, losing five bouts by only one touch.

“(Olympian) Courtney Hurley (from Notre Dame) lost one of the bouts in New York and I’m pretty sure she hadn’t forgotten that,” Kaihatsu said. “They’re loaded on the epee side and we’re loaded on the epee side too but they just really took it to us on Saturday.”

Taking on the full strength of the Notre Dame team on its home turf, NU was unable to gain any ground against the Fighting Irish, who shut out the Cats’ epee team 9-0 and conclusively won the match 21-6.

“Of course we would have liked to get one win against them,”  junior epeeist Dina Bazarbayeva said. “But the thing is Notre Dame is such a tough team and in order for us to get a lot of wins, we would have to be having a really, really, really good day and they would have to be having a really bad day, which in all odds would happen probably almost never. But I think we fenced really well.”

NU closed out the day with a decisive 25-2 win over Cleveland State before traveling on to U.S. Collegiate Squad Championships on Sunday. The Cats were defending three medals: a silver in the epee competition and a bronze in both the foil and sabre events. 

In the epee competition, the Cats fell to No. 2 Princeton in the semifinals, with a passivity error plaguing the team’s effort against the Tigers, but went on to defeat Pennsylvania 45-25 in the third-place match, clinched by Bazarbayeva. 

“Sunday was, I thought, a really good tournament for us as a team because it wasn’t the usual structure of NCAA fencing,” Bazarbayeva said. “It was more a team effort so everyone got really into it and really helped each other out. We could have beaten (Princeton) and we could have definitely beaten Ohio State for gold but I thought it was great practice for conference next weekend.”

After a bye in the first round, NU’s second-seeded foil squad squared off against Pennsylvania in the semifinals, but the Cats were unable to top the Quakers, falling 45-29. 

“It was definitely frustrating because I thought we were pretty evenly matched with Penn so it could have gone either way,” senior foil captain Dayana Sarkisova said. “It sucks because I think it means we didn’t deliver as much as we could have. But it’s a lot harder to fence again after you’ve lost, so fencing for third and having to refocus is tough but I’m glad we were able to do so.”

Following a disappointing loss, the foilists dominated NYU in the bronze-medal match, routing the Violets 45-25 with Sarkisova closing out the win for NU. Like the epeeists, the sabre squad fell to Princeton in the semifinals. In the third-place bout, NU’s match against North Carolina came down to the last touch, but the Tar Heels edged out the Cats to take the bronze with a 45-44 win. 

“That was a heartbreaker,” Kaihatsu said. “It was extremely close and Carolina is streaky. They have a couple of good sabre fencers that when they’re on, they’re on and when they’re off, they’re not all that off but they’re more manageable. Carolina was fencing really well and we just kind of lost control of it at the end, and of course at the end is what matters.”

With the bulk of their season behind them, NU will continue its push through the remainder of its post-season schedule, but Kaihatsu says he thinks there is room for improvement before things wrap up for the year.

“I still think we haven’t seen the best of our girls yet,” Kaihatsu said. “I’ve seen moments where they start to show something and I’ve seen opportunities that passed because someone got a little gun-shy. But I think our best is still out there and we still have three more chances to show it.”