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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
The following athletes qualified for the 2020 NCAA Championships during their final year of NCAA eligibility
Air Force Academy
University of California - San Diego
|Epee||M||Mecke||Cedric||Columbia University-Barnard 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||Zagoruiko||Ivan||St. John's University||NE|
|Epee||M||Vaysberg||Nathan||St. John's University||NE|
|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|
|Foil||M||Moelis||Sam||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Foil||M||Kumbla||Sidarth||Columbia University-Barnard College||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||Jurkiewicz||Jan||St. John's University||NE|
|Foil||M||Tarasiewicz||Maxime||St. John's University||NE|
|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|
|Saber||M||Doddo||Andrew||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Saber||M||Walker||Christopher||Columbia University-Barnard College||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||Centanni||Sal||St. John's University||NE|
|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||Cebula||Anne||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Epee||W||Giana||Vierheller||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Epee||W||Verret||Alexanne||Ohio State University||MW|
|Epee||W||Viveros||Montserrat||Ohio State University||MW|
|Epee||W||Rizzi||Andrea Vittoria||St. John's University||NE|
|Epee||W||Gavrilko||Nicole||St. John's University||NE|
|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|
|Foil||W||Schreiber||Ester||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Foil||W||Minarik||Natalie||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Foil||W||Rivano||Camilla||Ohio State University||MW|
|Foil||W||Cecchini||Gabriela||Ohio State University||MW|
|Foil||W||Pappone||Arianna||St. John's University||NE|
|Foil||W||Lachman||Katarzyna||St. John's University||NE|
|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|
|Saber||W||Timofeyev||Daniella||Columbia University-Barnard College||NE|
|Saber||W||Michel||Violet||Columbia University-Barnard College||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||Cieslar||Karolina||St. John's University||NE|
|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|
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