It wasn’t the most likely scenario, but after the Wildcats’ performance at the NCAA Midwest Regional, the coveted maximum of six fencers was selected to the NCAA Championship.
Although Northwestern only appeared to be in line for five spots, the team achieved the magical number of six for the competition that starts on Saturday for the women in Columbus, Ohio.
Even with the lesser odds of acquiring all six slots, coach Laurie Schiller wasn’t shocked by the favorable selection.
“I don’t know if surprised was the right word,” Schiller said. “But with four at larges, not only did the girls have to get themselves in positions, but other things had to happen in our favor. And it all worked out for us.”
The six fencers are evenly split among the three NU squads. In foil, junior Jen Yamin, a Daily columnist, and sophomore Stephanie Chan will be the representatives. In sabre, the names are sophomores Cindy Oh and Alisha Gomez-Shah. And in epee, juniors Helen Foster and Juliana Barrett will be in action.
Chan and Oh were the pair that needed the most help to gain an at-large bid, and Oh admitted that it was stressful waiting around and not knowing if she would gain a spot in the NCAA Championship.
But she did have some insight from Regionals on what she needs to do to succeed on the national stage.
“I learned to stay focused more and more about my endurance,” Oh said.
Despite NU’s 15th-consecutive top-10 finish at the NCAA Championships in 2014, Schiller characterized last year’s effort as a poor result that could serve to be improved.
Having six fencers rather than five can help the Cats accrue more points. That puts NU in elite company and gunning for more than a top-10.
“Only four teams got the six max this year, and that’s better than the usual of six teams having it,” Schiller said. “So I want to see us in that top-four by the end.”
To reach that top-four goal, Schiller hopes to see better individual performances this year. The highest any NU individual placed last year at NCAA Championship was 15th, which was too low for Schiller’s tastes.
The team top-four is a high mark, and the Cats will need several All-American performances to reach it.
Fortunately, that’s what Schiller has planned.
“Top-12 for an individual makes All-American, and I think any one of our girls is capable of that,” Schiller said. “That is what we are looking for from them.”
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