Notre Dame places fencers into the medal round of all three women's weapons for the third time in the past four years (Hurley 2nd, Nott 3rd, Providenza 4th); Irish finish among top-four teams (4th) for 14th straight year.
2007 NCAA Fencing Championships, day-2 of men's competition (Madison, NJ). Photos by Chris Pedota.
Guiorgie "Gia" Kvaratskhelia (GEE-uh Claw-duh-SKELL-ee-uh) enters his third season as the associate head coach of Notre Dame fencing after spending the previous five as an assistant coach. He also maintains his role as the foil specialist. Kvaratskhelia is regarded as one of the top foil coaches in the nation with a background that includes a successful competitive career in the former Soviet Union as a member of the Georgian National Team.
Since joining the Irish staff in 2007, the Notre Dame fencing team has enjoyed tremendous success under Kvaratskhelia, having qualified the maximum 24 foilists for NCAA Championship play, with 21 of those 24 appearances resulting in All-America honors.
The Notre Dame foil squads enjoyed the most success of all Irish weapon squads at the 2012 NCAA Championship, with the men's foil earning 32 points for the weapon win. Enzo Castellani (t-3rd) and Reggie Bentley (5th) posted matching 16-7 records during tournament play, earning first and second team All-America honors, respectively. The Irish women contributed a runner-up finish in the foil, powered by second team All-Americans Grace Hartman (16-7, 5th) and Madison Zeiss (15-8, 8th), to help lead Notre Dame to its 19th straight top-three finish at the NCAA meet.
This 2011 campaign best exemplifies the recent trend of foil success at the NCAA Championship, as the maximum four fencers advanced to the event with three of the four - Hayley Reese, Reggie Bentley, Ariel DeSmet - earning All-America citations with DeSmet capturing the individual foil title with a 15-13 victory over Penn State's Miles Chamley-Watson. It represented the second time in three years that a men's foilist claimed gold under Kvaratskhelia's watch, as Gerek Meinhardt accomplished the feat in 2010. Additionally, DeSmet became the first freshman foilist to win the title since Charles Higgs-Coulthard did so in 1984.
Reese, meanwhile, represented the first foilist to complete all four years under the tutelage of Kvaratskhelia as a four-time All-American, after receiving second team recognition following an eighth-place showing in 2011. Kvaratskhelia had previously helped Adrienne Nott churn out three such citations, but her first honor came the year prior to him joining the staff.
For his vast successes, Kvaratskhelia was tabbed as the 2010-11 U.S. Fencing National Coach of the Year. On the year, he helped several Irish representatives and others American fencers achieve high finishes on the NAC circuit as well as in several international competitions.
During the 2010 season, three of Kvaratskhelia's foilists were again dubbed All-Americans at the NCAA Championships. Meinhardt, Enzo Castellani and Reese finished first, third and fifth, respectively. Meinhardt, a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, became Kvaratskhelia's first NCAA gold medalist, posting a solid 15-9 victory over David Willette of Penn State. Also under Kvaratskhelia's champion coaching, Castellani earned the bronze medal, finishing round robin play with 16 wins and a +40 indicator.
The years of 2008 and 2009 both saw all four foil participants earn All-American distinction, led by Meinhardt and Reese in `09, who each earned silver medals on the men's and women's side, respectively. Castellani (8th) and Nott (9th) rounded out that year's group, with Nott closing out her career as the program's 18th fencer to earn four All-America honors.
In 2008, the story was the quick maturation of a group of freshmen that saw Steve Kubik (8th), Zach Schirtz (11th) and Reese (11th) qualify for All-American in their first year with the program, while Nott (4th) earned first-team billing in her second year under the tutelage of Kvaratskhelia. 2007, meanwhile, saw the Irish qualify four with Nott, Mark Kubik and Jakub Jedrkowiak all earning All-America honors.
Kvaratskhelia has also had a great impact on the recruiting trail in his stint with the Irish. In his first full season on the scene, he helped secure one of the top freshman classes in all of college fencing for the `07-08 season that was led by elite foilists Reese, Schirtz and S. Kubik - all went on to earn All-America honors in `08. That success hasn't slowed down since as in `09 he helped ink `08 U.S. Olympian Gerek Meinhardt as well as Radmila Sarkisova, ranked as high as 90th at the time in the FIE World Junior rankings. For the 2011 NCAA Championship season, Kvaratskhelia helped secure commitments from NCAA gold medalist Ariel DeSmet and NCAA participant Rachel Beck. Another prized signing, freshman Lee Kiefer, is entering her first season at Notre Dame fresh off a fifth-place finish with the U.S. women's team foil squad at the 2012 Olympics.
Prior to joining the Notre Dame coaching staff, Kvaratskhelia spent 10 years as the coach of the Kanza Fencing Club in Salina, Kan. In that time, Kvaratskhelia transformed Kanza from a small recreational club into one of the nation's top foil centers. His fencers at Kanza - which included the Kubik and Hodges brothers - combined to win three USFA national men's open foil team championships, with six of his Kanza fencers going on to compete at the Division I level as scholarship athletes.
Named the 2002 USFA national development coach of the year, Kvaratskhelia molded his fencers at Kanza into top competitors on the national and international levels. His Kanza fencers combined to be national finalists 15 times, while receiving nearly 50 national medals. Former Kanza fencers Ryan Dunn and Chris Miller were members of the U.S. Junior National Team before going on to successful collegiate careers (Miller as an All-American at Penn State and Dunn at Air Force.) Kanza product Christina Tillman also went on to fence at Air Force while Eric McConkey joined her as a Division I competitor at Cleveland State.
Known previously as the Coyote Fencing Club, the Kanza foil center had a roster of only five active fencers when Kvaratskhelia arrived in 1996 but that number of active competitors grew to a bustling gym full of 30 fencers by 2005.
During his time at Kanza, Kvaratskhelia worked cooperatively with many coaches throughout the United States and from overseas. Kanza has hosted an impressive list of nationally-ranked fencers during recent years, with those elite foilists including the likes of Kurt Getz, the Kubik brothers, Andras Horanyi, Meinhardt and Tamara Najm. Kanza also welcomed more than 60 out-of-state fencers for its 2005 summer training camps and worked an "exchange" program with clubs in Russia and Ukraine, allowing fencers from his homeland and Kansas to train in an overseas setting. Kanza likewise has sponsored community outreach programs while helping grow the sport of fencing throughout the state.
Kvaratskhelia - who became a U.S. citizen in 2004 - developed an elite four-fencer team of youth men's foilists at Kanza, with that group winning USFA national titles in the open category during 2001, `02 and `04. The Kanza foilists brought home the bronze from the 2006 USFA Summer Nationals, led by former Notre Dame fencers Steve (`11) and Mark Kubik (`09).
After immigrating to the United States in 1994, Kvaratskhelia stayed active in his own fencing career by competing in domestic and international events. He placed fifth in the open competition at a 1996 North American Cup and fenced at World Cup events in 1998 and `99. Kvaratskhelia first ventured into coaching in 1994, assisting Vladimir Nazlymov (now head coach at Ohio State) at Central Fencing Club in Kansas City and at the satellite Lawrence Fencing Club. Two years later, he accepted the challenge in Salina and spent 10 years building Kanza into a nationally recognized club.
Kvaratskhelia grew up in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and began fencing in 1988 at the age of 13. He progressed quickly and was a member of the Georgian National Foil Team from 1990-94, during which time he fenced alongside the likes of Vladimir Aptiaouri (a member of the U.S.S.R. foil team that won the gold at the 1988 Olympics). Kvaratskhelia took home the bronze medal at the 1990 Soviet Junior National Championship - shortly before Georgia declared its independence - and he later had an impressive 11th-place finish at the 1992 European Championship.
Noted for his tremendous communication skills, Kvaratskhelia is fluent in Russian, Georgian and English. He received his bachelor's degree in physical education and sport in 1993 from the Georgian State Physical Training Institute in his hometown of Tbilisi. He also earned a sports journalism certificate from that institution (`92) and pursued graduate studies in journalism at Tbilisi State University in 1993, prior to coming to the United States.
Kvaratskhelia and his wife, Dani Edson, have one daughter, Maya, and one son, Alexander.