Sabers key for Duke fencing as ACC championships get underway

<p>The Blue Devils will make the long bus ride to Indiana for the second time this season, this time for the ACC championships.</p>

The Blue Devils will make the long bus ride to Indiana for the second time this season, this time for the ACC championships.

The distance between New York City and San Francisco is 2,905 miles. 

But that means nothing for saber Pascual Di Tella and the Blue Devils, who will have traveled 3,915 miles by the time they arrive in South Bend, Ind., Saturday to begin competing at the ACC Championships at the Castellan Family Fencing Center. During the two-day tournament, Di Tella and 22 of his Duke teammates will take on Notre Dame—which is second-ranked in the country for both women’s and men’s squads—Boston College and Tobacco Road rival North Carolina.

The journey via bus will add 1,400 round-trip miles to Duke's season total, but the long trips are nothing new for the Blue Devils, who use the down time as an opportunity to continue developing team chemistry.

“I feel like this year, [bus rides] have been really fun because we have a group that always just messes around with each other and it’s really, really funny,” Di Tella said. “This season we have managed to translate the group’s sense of humor to the bus rides, and they’re a lot of fun.”

This weekend will not be Duke's first trip to Indiana this spring, because the Fighting Irish hosted the Northwestern Invitational in late January due to renovations at Northwestern’s Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. The Blue Devils are also plenty familiar with their opponents, as the Blue Devils battled Notre Dame at the Duke Meet Feb. 6-7. The Blue Devil men’s squad fell 16-11 and the women’s team lost 17-10 in their regular-season encounters, so the ACC tournament will be an opportunity to exact some payback on the Fighting Irish.

In the same competition, the Blue Devils defeated the Tar Heels 18-9 in the men’s competition and 15-12 on the women’s side.

“Notre Dame is very strong, so it is going to be a tough match and UNC is going to go after us because they know they could beat us, but we’re not going to let them do that,” Duke head coach Alex Beguinet said. “The match against UNC could be tenser, not from our part but from [theirs] because they know we beat them all the time.”

Di Tella and his weapon mate Peter Yang pace the No. 9 men’s quad with 48 wins apiece. Senior Charles Copti owns a 45-29 ledger and, thanks to his 11-4 individual record at the Philadelphia Invitational, the veteran saber received ACC Male Fencer of the Week honors Tuesday.

“If it’s only one guy that does well, then the other guys lose the drive to practice to the maximum level,” di Tella said. “But right now, we’re so even that we all give everything in every single practice and that’s so positive because we all work hard to get better.”

Among the epeeists, the trio of Bryn Hammarberg, Dean Ischiropoulus and Dakota Nollner has combined for 106 wins this season, and foils Jan Maceczek, Will Fieldman and Ethan Yu have posted a total of 84 victories.

Led by sophomore sabers Jennifer Ling and Haley Fisher—who have secured 53 and 50 victories, respectively—the women’s team will look to continue building momentum on the piste.

In the epee category, senior Isabella Barna and freshman Camille Esnault will be back in action this weekend after missing the Philadelphia Invitational. Freshman foil Kristen Coury will have her eye on reaching the 50-win threshold and weapon mates Julia Lee and Samantha Lee will look to improve their respective 68.5 and 50.0 winning percentages.

Ling went 14-1 at the Philadelphia Invitational and joined Copti in earning ACC Fencer of the Week honors this week.

“It’s absolutely amazing. At the end of practice, [it was] announced that [Ling and Copti] were ACC Fencers of the Week and everybody was really excited and everybody loves them,” Samantha Lee said. “Sabers are absolutely killing it and we couldn’t be happier for them.”


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