COLUMBUS, Ohio - The University of Notre Dame fencing team may still be considered a long shot for winning the 2014 NCAA Championship, but that didn't stop Irish eyes from smiling Friday afternoon as the women's weapon classes headed into the semifinals. Sophomore Lee Kiefer and Madison Zeiss entered the foil semifinal round with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds respectively, and finished there as well.
"I cannot describe how proud I am as a coach; they both deserve to be there," Irish associate head coach and foil specialist Gia Kvaratskhelia says. "They both pulled through it, and Maddie won her last 15 bouts of the round robin competition to get there.
"Everyone expected Lee to be there [in the finals], but she had to work hard for it and it was great to see her persevere, even with her opponent being her own teammate."
"We both kind of felt like we had already won, since we both made it to the Championship," Kiefer says.
"It doesn't matter who wins at that point, you both are just happy that your teammate is standing there next to you - even if it happens to be on the other side of the strip," Zeiss replies.
Kiefer becomes the first two-time consecutive champion in any weapon class for Notre Dame since Alicja Kryczalo was a three-time consecutive champion in women's foil from 2002-04. Other Irish two-time champions are Courtney Hurley (women's epee) in '11 and '13; Molly Sullivan (women's foil), '86 and '88; and Mike Sullivan (men's sabre), '77 and '78.
The foil championship wasn't the only championship to feature teammates fencing each other either, as for perhaps the first time in recent history, each weapon class featured a teammate vs. teammate final - Francesca Bassa and Vivian Kong of Stanford in epee, Aliya Itzkowitz and Adrienne Jarocki from Harvard in sabre, and Kiefer and Zeiss in foil.
To advance into the final bout however, Kiefer faced a tough competitor in Ohio State's Alanna Goldie. Goldie earned the first two touches but Kiefer countered to go ahead, 3-2. The two girls traded touches until the score stood 10-8 in favor of Goldie, but Kiefer turned on the gas at that point and scored four straight touches to take the lead, 12-10.
Goldie countered with a quick touch to make it 11-12 but Kiefer would not give up and ran away with the bout, winning 15-11.
Zeiss was in familiar territory in her semifinal, facing off against Columbia/Barnhard's Jackie Dubrovich - the same semifinal she fenced in the 2013 NCAAs. This year would prove to be different however, as both the first and the second period flew by with passivity warnings to both fencers. Entering the third period, the score stood tied at one apiece, before Zeiss took command and scored four straight touches to take a definitive, 5-1 lead.
After a few questionable calls in favor of Dubrovich, the bout concluded as time expired with Zeiss ahead, 6-4.
Heading into the final bout, Zeiss and Kiefer relaxed and traded laughs on the strip before heading into their respective corners. Kiefer scored the first touch, but Zeiss was quick to counter. Kiefer scored the next two touches, but Zeiss, always at the ready, came back to score two straight and tie it 3-3. Kiefer then went on a tear and scored four straight to move ahead, 7-3.
Zeiss scored another two points to up the score to 7-5, but Kiefer did not give her teammate any slack and scored another point to up the ante to 8-5. Zeiss reiterated with two straight touches to make it 8-7, before Kiefer scored three of her own and made the score 10-7.
Zeiss continued to stand her ground against Kiefer, and scored two more to increase the score to 10-9. Kiefer also scored two, making her tally 12, and with the final minute ticking away, both girls scored one more touch to make the final score 13-10 in favor of Kiefer.
Kiefer now stands as merely the fifth women's fencer to claim a title in both her freshman and sophomore seasons.
In epee, Nicole Ameli and Ashley Severson struggled to gain momentum after a tough first day of competition, with Ameli finishing eighth and Severson, 10th. Both received All-American accolades, Ameli as a second-team awardee and Severson on the third team.
Johanna Thill finished her day early in 15th place but still earned points for the Irish in the team standings. In addition to sabre's 10 points, the Irish earned 38 from foil and 24 from epee to leave them in fifth place with 72 points.
The men's team will begin competition tomorrow, with foil once again starting the day first.