Duke fencing concludes regular season at ACC Championships

Duke wrapped up its regular season by hosting the ACC Championships in Durham.
Duke wrapped up its regular season by hosting the ACC Championships in Durham.

After one long weekend of competition, the Blue Devils finished off their conference season at the ACC Championships. And though Duke's finish wasn’t as high as the group had hoped for, there were still some significant plays throughout the weekend that demonstrated the skill level on Duke's roster.

Hosting at Cameron Indoor Stadium Feb. 26 and Feb. 27, Duke saw success on both days. The group kicked off the weekend with individual championships, in which six Blue Devils received medals for their performances. Duke had one silver medalist in sophomore epeeist Sarah Lurye and five bronze medalists from foilists Christina Ferrari and David Tierney, epeeist Rachel Kowalsky, and Vivi Buchmann and Terence Lee in the saber.

The Blue Devils finished the competition with the No. 6 men in third place and the No. 12 women in second. The men’s team defeated North Carolina 17-10 early on but fell short to Boston College 14-13 and Notre Dame 17-10. The women’s team found themselves primarily successful in the earlier part of the competition, topping Boston College 23-4 and North Carolina 19-8 before an 18-9 loss to Notre Dame.

“We absolutely did think some squads and some individuals would perform better than they did,” head coach Alex Beguinet said. “There were many bouts that had some really good fighting, but sometimes it’s just a lucky touch that wins the bout, sometimes its fatigue and sometimes the opponents are just a tiny bit faster.”

Ahead of the competition, Duke surely hoped to see a repeat of its championship performance from last year, when both the men’s and women’s teams won conference titles. And with the skill level on this team and the performances its individual groups have given throughout the season, another big weekend was possibly in the cards for the Blue Devils.

Yet, one significant factor not in Duke’s favor was that Notre Dame did not compete at ACC Championships last year, with only the Eagles and Tar Heels as contention. The Fighting Irish entered with 38 total wins on the men's side while the women entered with 42 wins. A sweep against Notre Dame would have been an upset for Duke.

However, the group performed reasonably well despite the competition, especially in the individual competition and on the women’s squads. 

Lurye was the top-performing Blue Devil Feb. 26, finishing with 11 wins in pool play to compete as the No. 2 seed in the championships. She started by defeating Boston College’s Laura Boden 15-11 in the semifinal but faced a defeat by the Fighting Irish’s Amanda Pirkowski 15-10. Kowalsky finished as the third-ranked epeeist after falling to Pirkowski in the semifinal and then defeating Boden 15-9. Though the epeeists were one of the strongest teams individually, the saber led the women’s team during the team championships.

“The women have a small squad—they knew they would have to work strategically and stay at their best,” Beguinet said. “And actually, I think each fencer really wanted to try for a repeat of winning the championships.”

Senior Alex Gorman paced the saber with a 7-1 record Feb. 27. Zsofia Walters and Anneke Zegers also gave top performances, going 6-2 and 5-1, respectively. Epeeist Chloe Beittel tied Gorman for victories to finish as one of the top-performing fencers on the Duke squad. The foilists were also highly successful, with freshman Catherine Flanagan and Ferrari tallying six victories each. Sophomore Lulu Tang was close behind with five.

Junior epeeist Bowen Wang was the most successful men’s performer, snagging seven triumphs on the second day. 

“[Wang] always wants to do his best,” Beguinet said. “He missed out on all of last season, and I think he just went for it. We can always count on [Wang] to try and try and try.”

Freshman Allen Marakov, Wang's epee teammate, tied for second on the team in victories with Stephen Kim in the saber, with each going 6-3. Despite losing one of its top performers in Sam Gruber, the foil squad also had some excellent execution on the piste, as Finn Hossfeld and Tierney each finished 5-4.

However, the men's team's wins weren’t enough for a high finish in the tournament, as the group fell short to Boston College, which the Blue Devils defeated 19-8 the last time it battled the program. 

“This was like a deja vu of last year,” Beguinet said. “Boston College beat us in the team event at that ACC [tournament] also. They came together very focused on the goal of beating Duke, especially [when competing] at Duke. It [seemed] like a completely different team from the one we fenced two weeks ago.”

Even though Duke didn’t have the outcome it hoped for in the conference, the group as a whole still has two more competitions left this season, with the next being the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional. However, not every fencer will get a chance to level up to the NCAA Championship, meaning that for some members of the squad, their season is almost over.

“It is such a disconnect from fencing as part of a team all season,” Beguinet said about the event. “In the immediate short term, the focus is now on recovery from the incredibly intense effort of these last few days. [The team has time to] catch up on any academic work and then assess performances. Almost every fencer has a good understanding of what they need to be working on after this past weekend.”


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