Feb. 24, 2018
By Joanne Norell
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The No. 1 University of Notre Dame women’s fencing team both made and repeated history Saturday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships, sweeping the three individual weapons titles with two back-to-back champions.
With all three individual championships, the Irish became the first women’s team in ACC history to sweep the top spots on the podium in consecutive years.
For the first time since joining the ACC, the top-seeded and second-ranked Irish men’s team was unseated as conference champion, falling to second-seeded and ninth-ranked Duke 19-8 in what amounted to a championship match. After both teams defeated Boston College and North Carolina, the two clashed to determine the league’s winner in the round-robin format, with the Blue Devils winning their first conference title, while the Irish took second.
How It Happened
Women’s Individual Championships
It was an all-Irish semifinal in women’s foil with all four Notre Dame competitors advancing from pool play. Junior Elyssa Kleiner snared the top seed with a 13-1 record in the round robin, while freshman Stefani Deschner (12-2), sophomore Morgan Partridge (11-3) and sophomore Samantha Viqueira (10-4) followed in order.
In two close semifinal bouts, Deschner downed Partridge 15-13, while Kleiner outlasted Viqueira 13-12 after time ran out to make her second ACC title bout in three seasons. In the final, Kleiner pulled away in the second period to go up 14-7 before Deschner rattled off five straight points in the third. It was enough of a cushion, though, and Kleiner claimed her first career league title, 15-11.
Partridge defeated Viqueira 15-8 in the consolation bout to place third.
Three more Irish fencers qualified for direct elimination in sabre, led by No. 1 seeded senior and defending champion Francesca Russo (12-2). Also advancing were second-seeded junior Tara Hassett (10-4) and fourth-seeded freshman Reghan Ward (10-4), who faced a four-way tie by record after the round robin, but advanced on indicators.
Hassett ensured an all-Irish final, defeating Duke’s Haley Fisher 15-7 in her semifinal bout. A tight match-up ensued on the other side of the bracket, with Russo eking out a 15-14 win over Ward.
Hassett and Russo traded touches during the first half of their title bout, but Russo built a small cushion after the break and came away with a 15-13 victory. Russo became the first woman to repeat as the ACC sabre champion since the women’s tournament was introduced in 2015.
Ward placed third, defeating Fisher 15-3 in the consolation bout.
Junior Amanda Sirico was the lone Irish epeeist to advance to the semifinal, earning the No. 2 seed with a 12-3 record after pools. The defending 2017 champion faced Duke’s No. 3 seed Claudia Wrampelmeier in the semifinal, defeating her Blue Devil opponent 15-7 to face No. 1 seed Georgina Summers of North Carolina in the final.
Sirico was dominant through the first period of the championship, building a 9-3 lead over Summers en route to her 15-12 victory. Sirico is the first repeat women’s epee champion and the third Irish woman to claim the crown.
Other Irish finishers included senior sabreuse Claudia Kulmacz, who finished fifth with a 10-4 record, just missing the semifinal by indicator. Also finishing fifth was freshman Dasha Yefremenko (10-4) in epee, while sophomore Julia Barry (10-4) finished sixth. Senior Marie-Anne Roche (7-8) finished ninth.
Men’s Team Championship
Looking to continue the good momentum generated by the morning’s women’s events, the second-ranked Irish men took the floor as a team to face Boston College, North Carolina and Duke. They opened with a 20-7 victory over the Eagles, highlighted by 3-0 performances by senior Nicholas Hanahan and sophomore Ariel Simmons in epee and senior Jonathan Fitzgerald in sabre. Senior sabreur Jonah Shainberg was also unbeaten at 2-0.
The Irish then rolled to a 23-4 win over third-seeded North Carolina, including a 9-0 sweep in foil by senior Hazem Khazbak, junior Axel Kiefer and freshman Nick Itkin. Also 3-0 were Hanahan in epee and sophomore Arsenii Panteleev in sabre.
Duke was ready for the Irish, though, dominating on the foil and epee strips. Though the Irish went 5-4 in sabre — led by Shainberg’s 3-0 performance — the Blue Devils won the epee group 8-1 and went 7-2 in foil.
Meanwhile, in his first win in the Duke match, Shainberg became Notre Dame's all-time winningest men's fencer, winning his 194th career dual bout. He ended the day with 196 career wins.
From Coach Gia Kvaratskhelia
On sweeping the women’s individuals…
“They lived up to their expectations and their preparation paid off. They rose to the occasion and really dominated the field.”
On Russo and Sirico repeating as ACC champions…
“It’s just consistency across every level they compete at. They did it at the high school level, on the national and international level, and they bring that to the NCAA and collegiate level.”
On an all-Irish foil semifinal…
“It’s been a trend for foil. Out of the top four finishes the last three years, 11 of 12 have been Notre Dame fencers. They’re continuing that trend and I’m very happy with where they’re going.”
On moving forward from the men’s loss…
“We’re going to learn from our mistakes. We lost the battle, but we’ve got a war ahead, figuratively speaking, with regionals and NCAAs. We’ll sit down and analyze what went wrong, where the deficiencies and faults were and try to fix it in the best way to represent ourselves and our school.”
On expectations for Sunday…
“Our girls saw what happened here today (in the men’s team competition). We lost an edge and were tentative and that should not be happening tomorrow. They’re not going to make the same mistakes. They’re going to come out intense and good to go.”
ACC Fencing Championships
February 24-25, 2018
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Women's Individual Championships
 Francesca Russo (ND) def.  Reghan Ward (ND) 15-14
 Tara Hassett (ND) def.  Haley Fisher (DUKE) 15-7
 Francesca Russo (ND) def.  Tara Hassett (ND) 15-13
 Reghan Ward (ND) def.  Haley Fisher (DUKE) 15-3
 Elyssa Kleiner (ND) def.  Samantha Viqueira (ND) 13-12
 Stefani Deschner (ND) def.  Morgan Partridge (ND) 15-13
 Elyssa Kleiner (ND) def.  Stefani Deschner (ND) 15-11
 Morgan Partridge (ND) def.  Samantha Viqueira (ND) 15-8
 Amanda Sirico (ND) def.  Claudia Wrampelmeier (DUKE) 15-7
 Amanda Sirico (ND) def.  Georgina Summers (UNC) 15-12
Men's Team Championship
No. 2 Notre Dame 20, Boston College 7
Epee (7-2): Nicholas Hanahan 3-0, Ariel Simmons 3-0, Stephen Ewart 1-2
Foil (6-3): Michael Antipas 2-1, Hazem Khazbak 2-1, Axel Kiefer 2-1
Sabre (7-2): Jonathan Fitzgerald 3-0, Jonah Shainberg 2-0, Arsenii Panteleev 2-1, David Brown 0-1
No. 2 Notre Dame 23, North Carolina 4
Epee (7-2): Hanahan 3-0, Dylan French 2-1, Simmons 2-1
Foil (9-0): Nick Itkin 3-0, Khazbak 3-0, Kiefer 3-0
Sabre (7-2): Panteleev 3-0, Fitzgerald 2-0, Brown 1-0, Shainberg 1-2
No. 9 Duke 19, No. 2 Notre Dame 8
Epee (1-8): Simmons 1-2, French 0-1, Ewart 0-2, Hanahan 0-3
Foil (2-7): Itkin 2-1, Khazbak 0-3, Kiefer 0-3
Sabre (5-4): Shainberg 3-0, Fitzgerald 1-2, Panteleev 1-2
The Irish will be back on the strip Sunday, when the men compete for the individual championships and the women vie for the team title. Men's individual action begins at 7 a.m. ET, with championship bouts slated for 11:30 a.m. on ACC Network Extra. The women's team championship will follow and coverage will last throughout the event.
-- ND --
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame men's tennis and fencing programs, in addition to assisting with football communications and overseeing production of the football Gameday Magazine. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University and earned her master's degree from Georgetown University in 2013.