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NCAA Championships: In the Words of the Athletes

03/20/2020, 10:30am CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

Thursday, March 19 was a date hundreds of collegiate fencers around the nation had on their calendars.

The start of the NCAA Championships in Detroit.

Last week, 144 fencers received the news that they had qualified to fence for a chance at an NCAA title with Notre Dame, Princeton and Ohio State leading the field after qualifying full teams of 12 athletes.

Twenty-five colleges and universities were scheduled to compete in the event.

Complete List of 2020 NCAA Qualifiers

For more than 20 athletes, this year’s NCAA marks their final year of eligibility and an opportunity to end their senior year with one final set of memories.

For some, it was a chance at a first title. For others, the opportunity to return to the top of the podium.

Some of these fencers dreamed of competing in college since they were young and others came to the United States to continue to follow their dreams thousands of miles away from home.

The following is what six fencers had to say about qualifying for the 2020 NCAA Championships:


Photo Credit: Notre Dame

Amanda Sirico (Notre Dame, Women’s Epee), Three-time First-Team All-American and 2018 Senior World Team Champion
Graduate Student

My original plan was to graduate and to train to hopefully qualify for the 2020 Olympics, but I had surgery on my right arm that took me out of many of the competitions leading up to the season, so I had to make the tough decision to change these plans. I was ineligible my first year of college due to some difficulties with my high school's eligibility, so I had to work hard to earn my last season, which I decided to use this year. Having the ability to compete for my Notre Dame family one more time lessened the blow of not being able to pursue the Olympics, but it was ultimately the right decision as I had to have surgery on my other arm just nine months later. Having my ND family there for me during this time was a saving grace and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the coaches, our trainers, and my teammates for their support. 

Although I have qualified for NCAAs in years past, this one was a true test of my resolve and passion for the sport. After two surgeries in the past year, and having to fence NCAAs eight weeks out of surgery last year, I was really hopeful and excited about leaving all that I had left on the strip at my last NCAA competition. Although it has been tough, and we as student-athletes all go through hardships that test our love for our teams, our sport, and especially ourselves, I am trying to remain positive and reflect on all those experiences that have shaped me into the fencer I am today. This reality is sad, but my heart really goes out to those seniors that qualified for the first time and might not get their chance to compete for a title, as well as the freshman that have worked so hard to beat the odds and earn the right to fight for themselves and on behalf of their teammates. I continue to tell myself that this is not the end, and although an indignity has been thrown our way, albeit completely out of anyone's control, do yourself a favor and respond with dignity and be proud of all that you have made for yourself before this point and for your future. 

After we lost the title last year, our season started off quite rough and it would do no good to sugar-coat it. We had a really tough time trusting one another and being completely honest with each other and ourselves, and our outlook at the beginning was not good at all. I share this not as a sob story, but because I am truly proud of how this team turned it around. I do have to give credit to my teammates and our coaches for bearing with it and actively working to get this program heading in the right direction. Change did not come naturally and we really had to work through all the uncomfortable parts of learning to be a family again, but our outlook in August 2019 was that we were going to survive the season, whereas in March 2020, we were ready to fight for each other and qualify 12. I can say whole-heartedly that I am excited to see where this team will be in another year, especially considering the ugly, uncomfortable, and challenging work that we have put in for us to be in a position to function as a team and a family. 

Growing up around fencing, I was familiar with the concept of having those at your club be your fencing family, but I feel like in the college setting, this is just completely different. Especially with the Notre Dame Fencing Team having 60 teammates, I've never once had to coordinate with that many people to accomplish the same goal. In my experience, I think what makes Notre Dame different is that we don't try to force anyone into a mold. In a family, everyone has their likes and dislikes, their own goals, their own personalities, and what Gia has created is a safe space for everyone to be themselves, to contribute what they can and are willing to give, and to offer them a home away from home. Without this family, I would not have had the support to push myself out of my comfort zone to pursue graphic design, or had a family to push me towards my goals of competing at World Championships. I owe a lot to this team and I whole-heartedly wish that kind of experience on all fencers, no matter the level. Fencing may be an individual sport, but that doesn't mean you have to do it alone.  


Photo Credit: Douglas Levy / Princeton

Wesley Yuan (Princeton, Men’s Epee), Two-Time NCAA Championships Qualifier
Senior

The goal every year is to qualify a full 12 fencers to give ourselves the best shot at winning. I think we were all proud of being able to accomplish that together, seeing the hard work that we've been putting in all season pay off. For me, and probably the other upperclassmen, it really shows a bright future for the program after a couple of tough building years.

I was incredibly happy to have gotten another chance to compete at NCAAs, especially considering we qualified 12. I was sure I could be part of a championship winning team. But regardless of the result, it would have been great closure on my collegiate fencing career, being able to travel, compete, and be with my team one last time.

Being a Princeton Tiger has been a dream come true. I've always wanted to fence for Princeton and I couldn't have asked for a better team to join. The camaraderie and energy in collegiate fencing is so unique. I'm really thankful I got to experience it. Some of my best friends in college have been my teammates. I can't imagine going through Princeton without them. I'll always be a Princeton Tiger and I'm looking forward to supporting the program as an alum and seeing it prosper in the coming years under the captains and coaches.


Photo Credit: Ohio State

Domenik Koch (Ohio State, Men’s Saber), Three-time All-American
Graduate Student

The season was interesting because I’m not sure people thought we had a good shot going into the season. I think in the power ranking that is published we were pretty low early on and then we could really see people grow as the season progressed. I was injured during the autumn semester, so I couldn’t really spend too much time with the team and when I got back in January, it was pretty impressive to see how fast everything was moving and how everyone had put in the work. Everyone was determined and had in their mind that we want to win. So I think we were ready at the end and we showed it across several competitions, so we got better and better.

After graduating high school in Germany – I graduated in 2014 – I joined the military for two years and I was at that point where I still wanted to get some education, but I still wanted to fence. I believed I still had some potential and could get a little better, and it wasn’t really possible in Germany to get a solid degree and learn a lot while still competing on a very high level. That’s when I decided I wanted to go to the United States. My brother was already at Ohio State and had told me a lot of good things about it. I talked with the coaches and I figured this might be the best next step to get an excellent education and also work with good coaches and teammates. I think it worked out.

When I came here in 2016 with my broken English, the first thing I promised the coaches was: ‘Don’t worry guys. I’ll get you a National Championship.’ So it was pretty tough getting so close twice and then not getting the chance to make the promise true my last year. But I think being a champion is more about a mindset rather than holding up a trophy at the end of the year. So I leave the team with a smile knowing that I left a few champions behind that can do it next year for the team.


Photo Credit: Devin Manky.

Leanne Singleton-Comfort (Air Force Academy, Women’s Saber), Two-time All-American

Senior (Three Seasons at AFA, Freshman Season at University of California – San Diego)

I had a very good college experience during my one year at UC San Diego, but since I was 14, my heart was set on attending the Air Force Academy and becoming an officer.  Once I was medically qualified to attend, I was set on transferring to achieve my goals.

I was so excited to fence at Championships, feeling especially ready to compete for the title following my solid finish at Regionals, and represent my Air Force Academy team once again on the national level. I had the opportunity to fence in many World Cups this year, but also gave up some of those tournaments, because my main focus was NCAA Championships.  Knowing the sacrifices I had made and truly believing I was capable of earning an NCAA title this year made the loss of NCAA Championships that much more difficult. My Air Force fencing team had also qualified five fencers, the most since 2015, and I was excited to be traveling for the first time with my teammate, Erin Shea, in women’s saber as well.  We had each other pumped for what I knew would be the most rewarding experience to finish my five years of collegiate fencing.

The Air Force Academy’s fencing team is growing and succeeding in multiple avenues, cultivating skills as elite fencers and future officers at the same time.  Additionally, the Academy’s Athletic Department continues to support national and international travel, allowing personal growth in addition to our NCAA-competitive atmosphere. I expect the number of people the Air Force Academy qualifies each year for Championships to continue to increase.  Above all, I believe my team’s growth is largely attributed to how much we support one another as a family.  I am immensely proud of my team and having had the honor to be their team captain this past year


Photo Credit: Columbia University.

Sam Moelis (Columbia, Men's Foil), Three-Time All-American and 2017 Junior World Team Champion 
Senior

To be able to qualify and be sent to NCAA Championships as part of such an elite team is nothing less than an honor. Coach Michael Aufrichtig has gone above and beyond to cultivate not just a community of champions, but also of camaraderie. It is more of a pleasure to represent my team and the 11 other elite fencers with me than anything else. With a difficult region in the Northeast, qualifying each year keeps me in check with the difficulties of five-touch bouts in collegiate fencing and also prepares me for the 23 bouts that I'm going to fence two weeks after.

Collegiate fencing is an anomaly in the sense that its the only time in our fencing career that we are truly part of a team sport.Yes, few of us have team events at World Championships and the Olympic Games, but I think that that is an experience that a small percentage of the fencing community gets to experience. Many of us like fencing because its all or nothing: when we lose it's because we failed, but when we win its because we and we alone excelled. When you join a collegiate team, you realize that in this environment your value as a fencer is just as great as the fencer next to you on your team, regardless of if they are a walk-on or a World Champion. It makes for a new kind of pressure, but also an exciting motivation that we bring to the NCAA championships each year, regardless of if we are bringing 12 fencing or just 10 years ago when we would only qualify seven. Part of consistency is not just being able to handle failures, but also success. Having a target on your back means you earned it one way or another. And if we didn't do anything wrong, it means the target is there because we win. And if we win it means we're good. And being good is the best feeling. It's motivating to go further.

There are two things bigger than this sport: family and health. The risks outweigh the rewards in this very specific circumstance that made the cancellation of NCAAs an inevitability and also a relief for many. With everyone being sent home from their universities, we are given a new responsibility: We are no longer coming back to our dorms or off-campus house every day now. Meaning that wherever we go during this time, whoever we interact with and whatever germs we pick up, we now bring that back to potentially compromise whoever we are living with. This may seem bleak, but living in a family with five other people means that any of them could be at risk with me traveling and interacting with people on the strip the way that I do. Our team at Columbia, and all of the NCAA universities around the country, have been incredibly supportive by reaching out to one another and sending condolences for something that was truly suddenly lost. Fencing truly is family, making it WAY bigger than getting on the strip and poking someone. Wash your hands, don't touch your face, and also be grateful for this second family we have made just through the love of this extraordinary game.


Photo Credit: #BizziTeam

Geoffrey Tourette (Harvard / Men's Foil), Two-Time All-American 
Junior

There was definitely a huge feeling of disappointment across the whole team. We have all worked extremely hard this season and many of us have had our best collegiate seasons yet, only to have our season cut short. Everyone understands however the situation we are in and while it is painful not to be able to compete at NCAAs this year, all the returning student athletes are extremely motivated to start the new season and perform at a high level. Our seniors have been a great influence on the team and they have played such a vital role in our success this year. While they will definitely be missed, the lessons they taught all of us returning athletes will stay with us forever. We are all determined to come back next year stronger than ever, and we look to keep improving not only through the 2020/21 season but long after that as well. The future is extremely bright for Harvard Fencing. 

Qualifying Schools

Princeton University: 12
Ohio State University: 12
University of Notre Dame: 12
Columbia University-Barnard College: 11
Harvard University: 11
St. John's University: 10
Penn State: 9
University of Pennsylvania: 8
Duke University: 7
Yale University: 7
Stanford University: 5
Temple University: 5
U.S. Air Force Academy
University of California, San Diego: 5
New York University: 4
Boston College: 3
Cornell University: 3
Northwestern University: 3
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: 3
Brandeis University: 2
New Jersey Institute of Technology: 2
Brown University: 1
Hunter College: 1
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 1
University of the Incarnate World: 1
Wayne State University: 1

2020 NCAA Championship Qualifiers

Weapon Gen. Lname Fname School Reg.
Epee M Mecke Cedric Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Epee M Wang Bowen Duke University MAS
Epee M Campbell Daniel Duke University MAS
Epee M Sandler Adrien Harvard University NE
Epee M Lee Andrew Harvard University NE
Epee M Chmut Anton Hunter College NE
Epee M Bekker Samuel New York University NE
Epee M Bende Bence Ohio State University MW
Epee M Lange Henry Ohio State University MW
Epee M Cole Elias Penn State MAS
Epee M Piskovatskov Jonathan Penn State MAS
Epee M Miller Finn Princeton University MAS
Epee M Yuan Wesley Princeton University MAS
Epee M Zagoruiko Ivan St. John's University NE
Epee M Vaysberg Nathan St. John's University NE
Epee M Cheong Robin Stanford University W
Epee M Han Matthew U.S. Air Force Academy W
Epee M Kimatian Stephen U.S. Air Force Academy W
Epee M Khayat Ziad University of California, San Diego W
Epee M Kimatian Harrison University of Notre Dame MW
Epee M Matveev Valentin University of Notre Dame MW
Epee M Herbst Eliot University of Pennsylvania MAS
Epee M Daroian Emon University of Pennsylvania MAS
Epee M Haider Safi Yale University NE
Foil M Huang Bin Boston College NE
Foil M Moelis Sam Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Foil M Kumbla Sidarth Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Foil M Rushing Brycen Duke University MAS
Foil M Gronningsater Eoin Duke University MAS
Foil M Tourette Geoffrey Harvard University NE
Foil M Bravo Kenji Harvard University NE
Foil M Manley Thomas New Jersey Institute of Technology MAS
Foil M Mannan Zohaib New York University NE
Foil M Cervantes Diego Ohio State University MW
Foil M Wriedt Nathan Ohio State University MW
Foil M Bicego Sebastiano Pennsylvania State University MAS
Foil M Knodt Julian Princeton University MAS
Foil M Barmann Samuel Princeton University MAS
Foil M Jurkiewicz Jan St. John's University NE
Foil M Tarasiewicz Maxime St. John's University NE
Foil M Orts Lucas Stanford University W
Foil M Levin Nestor U.S. Air Force Academy W
Foil M Hadler Benjamin University of California, San Diego W
Foil M Mulligan James University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill MAS
Foil M Machovec Andrew University of Notre Dame MW
Foil M Olivares Marcello University of Notre Dame MW
Foil M Li Michael University of Pennsylvania MAS
Foil M Yee Maxwell Yale University NE
Saber M Kuldell Spencer Boston College NE
Saber M Doddo Andrew Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Saber M Walker Christopher Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Saber M Kitsiriboon Soravit Duke University MAS
Saber M Dolegiewicz Filip Harvard University NE
Saber M Saron Mitchell Harvard University NE
Saber M Kim Brian New York University NE
Saber M Yen Darren New York University NE
Saber M Koch Domenik Ohio State University MW
Saber M Swartz Roscoe Ohio State University MW
Saber M Farfan-Bayerl Inti Penn State MAS
Saber M Kwak Daniel Princeton University MAS
Saber M No Nicholas Princeton University MAS
Saber M Centanni Sal St. John's University NE
Saber M Matricciani Noah Stanford University W
Saber M Park Justin University of California, San Diego W
Saber M Kim Shawn University of California, San Diego W
Saber M Rabinowitz Beni University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill MAS
Saber M Contreras Alessandro University of Notre Dame MW
Saber M Smith Jared University of Notre Dame MW
Saber M Zhao Raymond University of Pennsylvania MAS
Saber M Lin Xiteng Steven University of Pennsylvania MAS
Saber M Perrier Clement Wayne State University (Michigan) MW
Saber M Del Vecchio Nicolas Yale University NE
Epee W Rueda Rylie Boston College NE
Epee W Cebula Anne Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Epee W Giana Vierheller Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Epee W Eno Megan Cornell University NE
Epee W Gao Cindy Harvard University NE
Epee W Kukadia Saanchi Harvard University NE
Epee W Falinska Julia Northwestern University MW
Epee W Verret Alexanne Ohio State University MW
Epee W Viveros Montserrat Ohio State University MW
Epee W Vanbenthuysen Barbara Penn State MAS
Epee W Constantino Lola Princeton University MAS
Epee W Komar Sofia Princeton University MAS
Epee W Rizzi Andrea Vittoria St. John's University NE
Epee W Gavrilko Nicole St. John's University NE
Epee W Lee Hanna Stanford University W
Epee W Calderaro Margherita Temple University MAS
Epee W Ross Naomi Temple University MAS
Epee W Harrison Amelia University of California, San Diego W
Epee W Sirico Amanda University of Notre Dame MW
Epee W Grady Miriam University of Notre Dame MW
Epee W Liang Jessica University of Pennsylvania MAS
Epee W Dib Vanessa University of Pennsylvania MAS
Epee W Ma Joy Yale University NE
Epee W Wang Shirley Yale University NE
Foil W Schreiber Ester Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Foil W Minarik Natalie Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Foil W Nishimura Madeleine Cornell University NE
Foil W Cao Ying Cornell University NE
Foil W Superville Zoe Duke University MAS
Foil W Liu Cindy Harvard University NE
Foil W Biasco Anna Northwestern University MW
Foil W Filby Sarah Northwestern University MW
Foil W Rivano Camilla Ohio State University MW
Foil W Cecchini Gabriela Ohio State University MW
Foil W Zuzulo Isabella Penn State MAS
Foil W Bicego Lodovica Penn State MAS
Foil W Tieu May Princeton University MAS
Foil W Lee Morgan Princeton University MAS
Foil W Pappone Arianna St. John's University NE
Foil W Lachman Katarzyna St. John's University NE
Foil W Liao Madeline Stanford University W
Foil W Abtin Aryana Temple University MAS
Foil W Mandour Sophia University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill MAS
Foil W Partridge Morgan University of Notre Dame MW
Foil W Deschner Stefani University of Notre Dame MW
Foil W Hao Grace University of Pennsylvania MAS
Foil W Rebchunovska Oleksandra University of the Incarnate Word W
Foil W Zhou Emme Yale University NE
Saber W Morales Jessica Brandeis University NE
Saber W Shealy Maggie Brandeis University NE
Saber W Chan Casey Brown University NE
Saber W Timofeyev Daniella Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Saber W Michel Violet Columbia University-Barnard College NE
Saber W Gorman Alexandra Duke University MAS
Saber W Lasota Marta Harvard University NE
Saber W Czyzewski Veronica Harvard University NE
Saber W Palmer Kristen Massachusetts Institute of Technology NE
Saber W Berczy Dorottya New Jersey Institute of Technology MAS
Saber W Toledo Julieta Ohio State University MW
Saber W Merza Sarah Ohio State University MW
Saber W Wozniak Kelli Penn State MAS
Saber W Moss Zara Penn State MAS
Saber W Anglade Alexis Princeton University MAS
Saber W Jenkins Ryan Princeton University MAS
Saber W Cieslar Karolina St. John's University NE
Saber W Plunkett Kerry Temple University MAS
Saber W Hee Malia Temple University MAS
Saber W Shea Erin U.S. Air Force Academy W
Saber W Singleton-Comfort Leanne U.S. Air Force Academy W
Saber W Linder Kara University of Notre Dame MW
Saber W O'Brien Regina University of Notre Dame MW
Saber W Hirsch Sydney Yale University NE

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