Fencing: Wildcats seek big result at Midwest Conference Championship


Abbey Chase/The Daily Northwestern

Senior Chloe Grainger practices sabre with a teammate. The Wildcats will face Notre Dame for the third time this weekend.

Abbey Chase, Reporter

The Wildcats have come up against their fair share of obstacles this season, but with postseason events now underway, Northwestern has a chance to score an evasive upset win when it matters most.

During the regular season, the Cats only had one major hiccup, falling to Duke in front of a spirited Blue Devils crowd at the Duke Duals earlier this month. But NU followed up one of its more deflating losses of the season with its only upset to date, taking out No. 5 Penn State. 

“I did talk to the team after our loss to Duke,” senior captain Dayana Sarkisova said. “I think that there are times to learn from losses and there are times to just get mad from losses and I thought that was one of those times to just get mad. I might have been kind of harsh but I thought it was what we needed. It was frustrating losing to a team we weren’t expected to lose to and then beating a team that was an actual challenge, but I’m glad we turned it around.”

Other than their up-and-down weekend at the Duke Duals, the Cats have in many ways performed by the book, beating lower ranked teams soundly and putting up a tough fight against their higher ranked opponents.

“It’s going to all fall upon their personal dispositions, their attitude, their confidence going forward,” associate head coach Ed Kaihatsu said. “I’ve been trying to preach that all year long and show them, for example, in that match we lost to Duke, Duke wanted it more. We were at Duke and they came and they brought it.”

With a team that is dominated by freshmen, building experience and adjusting to NCAA competition has been an important part of the season.

“When there’s a mostly freshmen squad, it’s definitely a tough adjustment because everyone is getting to know each other,” Sarkisova said. “With Jen Yamin, a freshman on the foil squad, it’s been amazing watching her grow. She went from having to deal with so many mental preparations that you have to go through against tough teams like Notre Dame, and now it’s awesome because at the end of the season, you watch her get up on the strip and you no longer have to worry about how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking.”

For the team’s more seasoned fencers, injuries have been a nagging issue. Sarkisova had been suffering from an ankle injury for the better part of a year before making her 2013 debut at the Philadelphia Invitational.

“I knew jumping into the season not having trained for basically a year and coming off the injury, it would be tough, so I didn’t really put my expectations where they would have been normally going into my senior year,” Sarkisova said. “I kind of used it as a chance to get back into fencing and now that it’s postseason I feel a lot more like my old self … I just want to be where I was hoping I would be at this point. It’s even more of a mental hurdle to overcome than a physical one.”

Additionally, sophomore Courtney Dumas has been bogged down by a knee injury throughout the season, and junior Dina Bazarbayeva suffered a concussion at the Philadelphia Invitational in January.

“After I came back at the Duke Duals, it was a little rough,” Bazarbayeva said. “I felt like I was out of shape because I hadn’t trained in a week and a half but the tournament (last weekend) went a lot better, I felt, so I was more in shape physically. Probably not quite what I was earlier this season, but we still have some time.”

Now back with a full squad, the Cats will head to the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship. At last season’s event, senior Kate Cavanaugh took home the gold in individual epee competition, and NU finished second overall in the event, taking out rival Notre Dame en route to its highest finish since 2007. Against the Fighting Irish, the Cats are 0-2 this year, but a win over the weekend would help erase this season’s earlier struggles. 

“With Notre Dame, we really have to focus on having high energy and just being ready,” Bazarbayeva said. “There’s nothing really that we can work on and improve on in a week. We know that people will have certain actions and you can fix some of your mistakes and try to implement that next time you fence them but overall, I think it’s just having high energy and fencing the best that we can because it’s the end of our season.”

Having spent the season feeling out the country’s top competition, NU will now attempt to put it all together when it matters most in its last weekend before NCAA qualifying, leading up to the NCAA Championships in San Antonio at the end of March.

“It’s not that we don’t have the talent,” Kaihatsu said. “It’s not that we don’t have the experience, it’s not that we don’t have the equipment or the training. It’s just that we don’t bring it. But we still have a chance and this is usually one of our best tournaments in the Conference Championships coming up.”