Fencing: Wildcats host NCAA Regional Championship, looking for six to advance to nationals

Kevin Casey, Sports Editor

Six is the magic number for the Wildcats as they enter the NCAA Midwest Regional on Saturday.

Northwestern will be competing with the maximum allowed 12 fencers as it hosts the event. The Cats are opting to fence with four each from their foil, sabre and epee squads.

Only two from each group can advance to NCAA Championship in two weeks, leaving NU with a maximum of six possible nationals spots.

That number has been elusive for the team, but the Cats expect matters to fall in their favor this week.

“We’ve never qualified six, we’ve usually had five, occasionally four,” coach Laurie Schiller said. “But this year, we’ve had the best shot in some years to (get that six).”

He has good reason to display such belief, as NU as a whole ranks seventh in the country, and the team polished off a silver medal showing at Midwest Fencing Conference Championships just two weeks ago.

And the Cats may also serve to profit this week from their balance. Despite a perceived weakness at epee early on in the season, NU has been robust in that area, including winning a gold in the weapon at conference championships.

Sabre and foil have also been unfailingly strong.

The sabre squad will have a pair of sophomores in Julia Abelsky and Alisha Gomez-Shah looking to qualify for repeat appearances at the NCAA Championship.

Fellow sophomore Cindy Oh will also be searching for one of the two nationals spots in sabre, but insists that the impetus is on getting the team goal of six accomplished.

“We’re ready to support each other and we’re focusing on the team rather than the individual,” Oh said. “We’re doing pretty well, confidence is good. We’ve been focused at practice.”

Whether NU can attain that magical six remains to be seen. No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 6 Ohio State will also be in the field at the regional.

NU will headline juniors Kaitlyn Wallace and Juliana Barrett in the epee section. Fellow junior Jen Yamin will be looking for another nationals appearance in foil, and sophomore Stephanie Chan is another intriguing name there.

Schiller said being at home has its benefits and its downsides, but he’s not focused on those minor factors.

Instead it’s that pesky number six. If the Cats can get six to nationals, they may be in line for a big finish to the season.

“Only four or five teams get six fencers to NCAA Championships, which means you’re almost certainly going to finish in that top group,” Schiller said. “If we get six there, we’re already in better shape. If we bring five, we probably finish top-10, if we bring six, we could be top-five.”

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