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Fencing: Conference championship offers tune-up before NCAA tourney

Can the ‘Cats keep their momentum going when it matters most?

A meteoric season for Northwestern’s women’s fencing team faced its steepest trajectory yet this past weekend. The purple swords sliced toward Columbus, Ohio en route to the Central Collegiate Fencing Conference Championships, where they faced each of their conference foes along with Detroit Mercy, who participated in the duals unaffiliated with the CFCC.

No. 5 Northwestern shares a conference with No. 6 Ohio State, Denison, Cleveland State, Lawrence and Wayne State. The six squads converged on the Buckeyes’ campus for a packed day of bouts.

Leading up to the conference tourney, the ‘Cats had endured one of their most intense stretches of the season.

The unit is two weeks removed from a weekend of matches against No. 15 Duke (loss), No. 1 Notre Dame (loss) and No. 9 Penn State (win). Nine of its players are also just seven days off of the Junior Olympics, where first-year sabre Megumi Oishi placed 10th in her category.

The CCFC Championships offered NU one more chance to tune up before they enter the final gauntlet — the NCAA tournament circuit. Their first five opponents were all unranked, and Northwestern handled business as expected.

By Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats had taken down their opponents by a combined score of 119-16. The closest a team got to beating NU was when Wayne State challenged with six points to the ‘Cats’ 21 in the first match of the tournament. On the other end, Detroit Mercy failed to put up a point, losing 27-0.

The thick of battle came against Ohio State, who’s been jabbing at Northwestern’s side ever since it finished just two points behind NU in the mid-season edition of the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association poll. The last time the two teams met metal-on-metal was at the beginning of February, when OSU edged out the Wildcats, 14-13.

Things turned out even worse for Northwestern this time around.

In the sabre category, Oishi spearheaded a valiant attack that fell short, 6-3. Sophomore Kailing Sathyanath and junior Sky Miller contributed to the effort, but the unit never commanded the match.

The foils were outpaced entirely, 8-1. Sophomore Rowan Park, senior Anna Biasco and first-year Samantha Serban attempted the charge, with sophomore Yejine Lee subbing in for Serban in the final bout.

The team play wrapped up with an epée performance that saw NU get the closest it did to a category win against the Buckeyes. In a 5-4 loss, first-year Kaylin Nguyen led the way with sophomore Hanna Lipthay and first-year Karen Wang right behind her. Fellow first-year Lia Douglas tapped in for Nguyen in the final bout, but the squad wasn’t able to wrap it up in the end.

Overall, Northwestern finished second in team competition at the CFCC Championships.

Individually, junior Levi Hoogendoorn, Lee and Lipthay all nabbed silver medals in the sabre, foil and epée events, respectively. Senior Thea Nguyen and Oishi placed third in the sabre category. Biasco earned third in the foil. Wang and first-year Nguyen finished third in the epée.

The ‘Cats tallied a solid scorecard at the Championships, but back-to-back losses against Ohio State coupled with the sequence of ranked losses to Duke and Notre Dame a few weekends back is a sign for worry.

With NCAA Regionals (hosted at Welsh-Ryan Arena!) coming up on Mar. 11, it’ll be up to head coach Zach Moss to take his squad to the next level.