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Winter in Review: Fencing, Swim/Dive, Wrestling all denied shot at NCAA Championship glory

While all three programs had members lose the opportunity to become NCAA Champions, they each took major stride.

via @NUWrestle on Twitter

After history-making years for all three programs, Northwestern’s fencers, wrestlers, swimmers and divers faced an abrupt end to their seasons and missed out on the opportunity to compete in their respective NCAA Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout the season, stars emerged from each program and brought Northwestern’s name into the national spotlight. While they will have to wait until next year to compete for individual national titles and other honors, each program took big steps forward this season that bode well for the future.

Let’s take a look back at a trio of remarkable seasons:

Fencing

Northwestern fencing posted an outstanding 2019-2020, finishing with a 29-11 overall record and sending three fencers to the NCAA championships. NU, as usual, dominated in the regular season, setting the program up for possible success in the postseason — with the opportunity to cash in on that potential ultimately being stripped away.

The fencers started off their season especially strong with a 5-0 finish in the Fall NU Duals. They continued their impressive campaign with a 5-0 mark in the Western Invitational and a 6-1 record in the Deciccio Duals in the winter. They closed out their regular season with an astounding 10-2 finish in the NU Duals in February, including a win over Princeton — the top-ranked program in the nation.

Following its impressive regular season, Northwestern competed in the Midwest Fencing Conference championships where they placed second overall to No. 4 Ohio State. The ‘Cats earned four bronze medals thanks to the efforts of Julia Falinska (epée), Anna Biasco (foil), Abby Tartell (sabre) and Abigail Swallow (sabre).

As a result of its second-place conference finish, the Wildcats ranked eighth in the nation heading into the NCAA Midwest Regionals, where 11 NU fencers competed. First-year epée fencer Blodwen Bindas led the way, finishing in third place overall. Emma Scala, Falinska and Natalie Kim also finished sixth, eighth and ninth respectively in the category.

Additionally, Tartell, Swallow and Robyn Song placed eighth, ninth and 10th in sabre, and Sarah Filby earned sixth place in foil.

Three Northwestern fencers then qualified to compete in the NCAA championships. Filby automatically qualified for her second championship trip while first-years Falinska and Biasco earned at-large bids. While the tournament was ultimately canceled, all three who qualified were either first years or sophomores, leaving them plenty of time in their careers to get back to the sport’s highest collegiate level.

Swim and Dive

Northwestern swimming and diving, especially on the women’s side, completed one of its best seasons in program history. With a 12-3 overall record and 3-0 conference mark, the women’s swimmers and divers finished top-four in the Big Ten for the first time since 2002 and ranked 25th in the nation as of February 19th’s poll. They not only succeeded throughout the regular season but dominated in the Big Ten Championships, achieving three individual titles.

The swimmers recorded a total score of 907.5 at the Iowa-hosted conference title meet, crushing the former program record of 628 points, set back in 1993. Calypso Sheridan led the way for the ‘Cats, breaking seven individual and relay school records and earning the first Big Ten championships of her career in the 400-yard individual medley and 200-yard breaststroke. The ‘Cats broke 11 school records in the meet, and seven swimmers qualified for the NCAA Championships as a result (Sheridan, Hannah Brunzell, Ally Larson, Emma Lepisova, Miriam Guevara, Sophie Angus, Krystal Lara).

The men’s swimmers completed their 2019-2020 campaign with an 8-5 overall record and 2-0 conference finish. They placd fifth at the Big Ten championships, their best finish since 2007 in the meet. While the team did not have any Big Ten champions, it scored the most points in program history with 665 (129 from divers), recorded two school records, had 28 finalists and had four NCAA-bound swimmers (Federico Burdisso, Manu Martos Bacarizo, Ryan Gridley, Kevin Houseman).

As for the divers, Markie Hopkins stunned the Big Ten and emerged the conference champion in platform diving. She qualified for the 2020 NCAA Zone C Diving championships alongside six of her teammates: Jaye Patrick, Leah Parsons, Labonita Ghose, Henry Schirmer, Evan Labuda and Yohan Eskrick-Parkinson.

Wrestling

The wrestlers also put up a strong season behind the leadership of Sebastian Rivera and Ryan Deakin. The team finished with a 6-7 overall record and 3-6 conference record and placed sixth in the Big Ten championships. Its sixth-place finish improved upon its eighth-place mark from last season and earned Northwestern its best team score in eight years.

In the nation’s most competitive conference, Rivera and Deakin emerged victorious as B conference champions at 133 and 157 pounds respectively. They earned Northwestern its 43rd and 44th conference championships in history in the program’s first year with two champions since 2015. Michael DeAugustino, Shayne Oster and Lucas Davison all placed in the top five in their brackets as well, earning them automatic trips to the NCAA Championships.

In his NCAA Championships debut, DeAugustino earned the eighth seed in the 125-pound championships; Oster was ranked 20th in the 165-pound championships, and Davison was positioned 15th in the 197-pound championships. Yahya Thomas also earned an at-large bid to the 149-pound championships as a 27-seed.

Deakin completed his perfect 21-0 season and sealed his position as top overall seed at 157 pounds for the NCAA tournament. He was named a finalist for the Hodge Trophy, college wrestling’s top individual honor, for which the winner will be announced on March 30. He is the first Wildcat to be named a finalist for this award since Jake Herbert won the honor in 2009 following a perfect 34-0 season and his second-consecutive national championship.

After only competing in 11 matches during the regular season, Rivera was seeded fifth in the Big Ten tournament. However, he earned his second straight Big Ten title after upsetting both of the top two seeds in his bracket. He was recognized as the Big Ten Championships’ Most Outstanding Wrestler and earned the one-seed in the NCAA 133-pound championships.

While the season was cut short for the ‘Cats, both Rivera and Deakin have one more year of eligibility to potentially become national champions.