The Cornell fencing team capped off its season this past weekend with a 15th place finish at the three day NCAA Championships.
Senior Victoria Wines represented the Red in epee, placing 18th overall, while juniors Gabriella Zusin and Lyubov Kiriakidi placed 16th and 17th, respectively, in foil.
“It’s always great to compete with the top 24 fencers in each weapon,” said head coach Daria Schneider. “We still have a lot to improve on … but I’m very proud of our fencers for being able to qualify for such a prestigious event, and I look forward to helping them perform at higher levels in future competitions.”
Competing in her last tournament as a member of the Red, Wines entered the championships as one of the favorites to win it all. Previously during her sophomore year, Wines had placed third overall in championships — the highest finish in Cornell history.
“I’m sure [Wines] was disappointed not to finish her college career with a higher finish,” Schneider said. “She did struggle with a hip injury prior but … I think it was more of the mental game … which affected her. It’s really unfortunate that she’s a senior and we won’t have more time to keep working on it.”
Wines finishes her Cornell career as one of the most successful fencers in school history. Through the course of her career, Wines has qualified for the NCAA championships four consecutive years, with a third place finish in 2015. Her accolades also include a first-team All-American selection, four all-Ivy selections and one gold medal and three silver medals in the NCAA Northeast Regionals.
In the foil event, both Zusin and Kiriakidi finished the tournament with eight wins, with Zusin slightly edging out her teammate in the standings due to touch differential.
Kiriakidi had a notable first day in which she led all Cornell fencers with a 7-8 record and a +0 touch differential.
“I felt like I fenced better in the beginning and … I just really enjoyed the overall experience,” Kiriakidi said. “I was focused on every bout, and I may have put too much pressure on myself later on, but when I kept a good mindset, my best came out.”
Kiriakidi also competed in a memorable bout during the tournament’s fourth round in a matchup with Notre Dame’s Lee Kiefer, who currently holds the number one ranking in the world. Despite facing immense pressure in a bout which could clinch the national championship for Notre Dame, Kiriakidi showcased all of her skills, dropping a tightly contested 5-1 decision in favor of Kiefer.
“Although the entire stadium was incredibly loud for Kiefer and Notre Dame to clinch the team championship, Kiriakidi just stayed completely focused,” Schneider said. “[She] put an incredible amount of pressure on the number one fencer in the world and in that moment showed me that she has the ability to bring that ability to bring that to all her matches.”
While there are many positive takeaways from the championships, the tournament also highlighted several areas of improvement. A major focus next season will be the mental game of the team, according to Kiriakidi.
“I’ve just focused on just the mindset of not putting too much pressure on myself, even for a big event like this,” she said. “Even if it’s the top ranked fencer or the underdog, I just have to bring the game into whatever I’m doing on the strip.”
Schneider echoed that the coaching staff will place the team’s mental strength into the spotlight in following seasons.
“We have to improve both our skills, discipline and mental strength,” she said. “It’s definitely not impossible to win in a competition like this, where everyone is capable of winning a difficult bout, … [but] we just have to find a different way to win.”
Looking ahead into the next season, the Red will hope to use this season’s championship experience as a valuable asset in the locker room.
“Now that [Zusin and Kiriakidi] have competed in this competition, I think they’re going to go to another level in terms of their intensity, focus and athletics,” Schneider said. “I’m looking forward to having that come into the practice room and … I think it’ll have an impact not just on them, but on the whole team.”
“I excited to fence again with the girls next season and use everything I’ve learned in this tournament to help the team as much as possible,” Kiriakidi added.