Fencing: Northwestern sets sights on two rivals at Midwest Fencing Conference Championship

Alex Lederman, Reporter

This weekend marks the start of what Northwestern has waited for all season: the playoffs.

The No. 9 Wildcats (34-9) will travel to South Bend, Ind., for the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship at Notre Dame on Saturday and Sunday. It is the first of three weekends of postseason play in March, with the Midwest Regionals next weekend and the NCAA Championships on March 20 and 21.

The tournament brings together the 21 schools in the Midwest Fencing Conference, which includes both NCAA and club teams, to compete for the title of conference champion. Individual, squad and overall winners are crowned.

“We have the usual pretty tough opponents in the conference, and that’s Ohio State and Notre Dame,” coach Laurie Schiller said. “The team that wants it the most is the one that’s gonna do well.”

The Cats currently rank third in the conference behind the Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish, who slot in nationally at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively. NU last won the tournament in back to back years — 2000 and 2001 — but Ohio State or Notre Dame has won every year since. The Fighting Irish are the defending champions, and the Buckeyes triumphed in 2012. Schiller said it’s frustrating how long it has been since his squad has come out on top.

“Ohio State’s pretty good this year,” Schiller said. “They have a very strong team, but they have some weaknesses in sabre and epée. And we have pretty good sabre and epée. Notre Dame has been pretty good all the way around. But they were on and off at points too, so it’s really gonna be interesting to see who can bring it on the day when it matters.”

NU finished second overall in 2012 and third in 2013. Last year, current senior Dina Bazarbayeva earned silver and current junior Courtney Dumas scored bronze in the women’s epée event.

The Cats will try to steal the gold medal this time out, but it won’t be easy.

NU has faced both Notre Dame and Ohio State twice this season. Both teams topped the Cats at the NYU Invitation, with the Fighting Irish triumphing 18-9 and the Buckeyes prevailing 23-4. NU didn’t have much better luck the second time out against either team. At the Notre Dame Duals, the Cats fell to Ohio State 18-9 and the hosts 20-7.

Still, Schiller said this is what his team has been preparing for all season. He said he views the dual meets more as preparation for the playoffs—a postseason that will be the first for many on this squad.

The team boasts 12 freshmen on its 26-woman roster. Still, these young Cats have been essential to NU’s success this year. Freshmen epée Mandeep Bhinder, foil Stephanie Chan and sabers Alisha Gomez-Shah, Cindy Oh and Ania Parzecki have all seen regular playing time and have played critical roles.

Schiller is in his 37th season as head coach at NU and is the second-winningest coach of all time in the sport. He stands one victory away from 1,150 wins and has less than 450 losses. Even after such an illustrious career, he said, winning this conference championship would be particularly special.

“Notre Dame is leaving our conference since it joined the ACC, so we really want to send them out on a good note,” he said. “Well, not a good note for them but a good note for us.”

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