March 25, 2018
By Joanne Norell
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The University of Notre Dame fencing program clinched its 10th national title on Sunday, giving the program back-to-back titles for the first time in 40 years. The program also added an individual champion as freshman Nick Itkin captured the men’s foil crown.
The Fighting Irish finished the competition with 185 points, just one behind their point total when winning in 2017. Columbia finished second in 170, followed by Ohio State (147), Penn State (137) and Harvard (129)
They clinched the championship in the fifth round with a 5-4 win by sophomore epeeist Ariel Simmons over Johns Hopkins’ Tiger Gao.
Notre Dame last won titles in consecutive years in 1977 and 1978, claiming a pair of men’s championships when men’s and women’s fencing were contested separately. The most recent titles are the first back-to-back combined championships in program history.
The 2018 crown is the second national title for head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia, and his third as part of the program. He was also an assistant coach on Janusz Bednarski’s staff during the 2011 title run.
The Irish also added 10 All-Americans to their ranks, with five men’s entrants — Itkin, Simmons, Axel Kiefer, Nicholas Hanahan and Jonah Shainberg — joining the five women who earned the distinction on Friday.
How It Happened
The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference men’s foil champion, Itkin paced the field on the national stage, taking the top seed into the semifinals after going 18-4 with a +58 indicator, which bested the next closest competitor by +23. Teammate Axel Kiefer earned the fourth seed with a 15-7 record, earning a trip to meet Itkin in the semifinal bout.
Itkin continued his dominance in the semifinal bout, leading 11-3 after the first period en route to a 15-4 victory. Kiefer’s third-place finish matched his best placement as a freshman in 2016 and made him an All-American for the third time in as many years.
In the final, Itkin met Columbia’s Sam Moelis, who earned the second seed and had defeated Itkin 5-4 during the round robin. The Irish rookie was ready, though, taking an 8-2 lead after the first period and jumping head 14-8 after the second en route to his 15-8 title-clinching victory.
Itkin became Notre Dame’s first national champion in men’s foil since Gerek Meinhardt in 2014.
Simmons ensured himself a repeat year as a First Team All-American, going 7-1 on Sunday to rise from sixth to first with a 17-6 record in pool play.
Simmons met Ohio State’s Marc-Antoine Blais in the semifinal bout, with the pair trading touches throughout the bout. The Irish standout led 5-4 after the first period and 8-7 after the second, but Blais evened things in the third to force overtime at 14-14. There Blais, won the last touch to oust Simmons 15-14.
Simmons finished in a third-place tie for the second straight year.
Senior Nicholas Hanahan became a first-time All-American on Sunday, earning second-team honors and finishing in fifth place after going 15-8.
Senior Jonah Shainberg became the 26th four-time All-American in program history, matching his best finish in fifth place after finishing the weekend 16-7. He missed making the final four by a factor of five touches. Classmate Jonathan Fitzgerald placed 15th, posting a 9-14 mark on the weekend.
From Coach Gia Kvaratskhelia
On what it took to repeat as national champions…
“I truly think the hard work, hard work, diligent preparation all year long paid off today. All along, we wanted to peak at the right moment and the right moment only occurs one time. We wanted to deliver this performance at the NCAA Championships and we really proved we were the superior team to everyone else here.”
On winning back-to-back titles…
“It just shows the health of the program. We can say that Notre Dame is back, Notre Dame is relevant and moving forward we want to be able to contend for more national championships.”
On the legacy of the senior class…
“I call them a turnaround class. Prior to their arrival, we finished sixth at the NCAA Championships and we were not in the right place. As soon as they stepped foot on campus, we tied for second (when they were freshmen) and from then on we had a shot every single year. In four years, we won twice, and that’s a credit to their strength as members of this team.”
On Nick Itkin’s performance…
“He was stellar. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen — as a freshman, as anyone. He breezed through the field and delivered a masterpiece in the finals.”
“I’m incredibly honored to represent our University, our student-athletes, our coaches and to take home another trophy will make everyone proud.”
From Men’s Foil Champion Nick Itkin
On starting his career at Notre Dame with a national title…
“It feels really great. I feel like I fenced really well and I feel really good right now. I’m so happy to make my teammates happy. We also won the team event, so I couldn’t be better.”
On the grind of fencing 22 bouts in two days…
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about how you have to fight for each bout, and I had never fenced that many bouts (in that short of timespan) before. I just listened to the upperclassmen and their advice and was able to stay strong throughout the whole tournament, so I feel really good.”
National Collegiate Fencing Championships
March 22-25, 2016
Multi-Sport Facility | Penn State
State College, Pa.
Men’s Results (March 24-25)
1. Nick Itkin 18-4*
T-3. Axel Kiefer 15-7*
T-3. Ariel Simmons 17-6*
5. Nicholas Hanahan 15-8**
5. Jonah Shainberg 16-7**
15. Jonathan Fitzgerald 9-14
Women's Competition (March 22-23)
2. Sabrina Massialas, 17-6*
T-3. Elyssa Kleiner, 18-5*
T-3. Amanda Sirico, 13-2*
23. Dasha Yefremenko, 7-16
T-3. Francesca Russo 18-5*
7. Tara Hassett 15-8**
*First Team All-American
**Second Team All-American
1. Notre Dame 185
2. Columbia 170
3. Ohio State 147
4. Penn State 137
5. Harvard 129
Notre Dame Fencing National Championships: (Men) 1977, 1978, 1986, (Women) 1987, (Combined) 1994, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2017, 2018
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.