It’s crunch time for Northwestern’s fencing team. School meets are over. Conference meets are over. All roads — nay, mats — lead to NCAA Championships.
The ‘Cats had last competed in the final week of February, taking home second at the Central Collegiate Fencing Conference (CCFC) Championships. NU was shut out in duels against Ohio State, but it managed to earn a silver podium finish by handily beating the likes of Denison, Wayne State and a handful of other Midwest-based squads.
The Wildcats’ CCFC results were good enough to catalyze their rise to No. 4 in the final USFCA Coaches Poll. Northwestern sat at No. 5 before the conference meet, and it had started the season ranked No. 9 in the nation.
Faced with elite expectations, the NU swords returned to the floor for a showdown at Welsh-Ryan Arena, host of this year’s NCAA Midwest Regional tournament. Sabreists, foils and épées alike had to fend for their spots at NCAA Championships, which kicks off Thursday.
Northwestern had its best results in the sabre category, in which Megumi Oishi finished third behind two weaponists from Notre Dame, both upperclassmen. Oishi, a first-year, has been the ‘Cats’ star throughout the season, consistently medaling at competitions and placing well at the Junior Olympics, which were held in mid-February. Right behind her was junior Sky Miller, who finished fourth in the event. Oishi and Miller both placed high enough at Regionals to compete at the national tourney.
Sabre was NU’s best division by result, but the team qualified fencers in the other two fighting styles as well.
Anna Biasco, a senior foil, snuck through the regional qualifier with an eighth-place finish, the cutoff for Nationals. Biasco has missed an NCAA Championship appearance just once in her tenure at Northwestern. Right behind the Glenview, Illinois, native was Juliana Hung, a first-year from San Francisco, who just missed on a trip to the big stage with a ninth-place result.
In the last category of competition, épée, one ‘Cat will make the trek to Nationals: first-year Karen Wang. Wang nabbed an impressive fifth-place finish in the competitive division. Three of the four fencers that Wang placed behind are upperclassmen.
In all, NU will send a group of four to Durham, North Carolina, to compete at NCAAs. Biasco, who’s from Durham, might have the fortune of a home-mat advantage. Otherwise, it will be up to the Wildcat quartet to demonstrate the consistency and grit that has been synonymous with Northwestern fencing all season.
NCAA Championships will run from Thursday to Sunday on Duke’s campus. After the much-anticipated tourney concludes, ‘Cats will have the chance to individually compete at the April edition of the North American Cup before packing up the swords until next season.