For any athlete, the opportunity to compete for a championship is the experience of a lifetime. It is the best mix of adrenaline, joy and anticipation, an unparalleled moment that is not easily forgotten. Only one thing can beat such a feeling — vying for a title at home.
Duke competed in the NCAA Championships this weekend as it has countless times before. However, there were no planes or buses to be chartered, no hotel reservations to be made. Instead, the Blue Devils competed right at home, under the bright lights at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Despite the pressure of the hosting gig, Duke fought its way to a ninth-place team finish with 73 points to its name.
“I’m happy. The team did very well all season,” said head coach Alex Beguinet. “It [has been] a long time since we’ve had the NCAA [Championships] at Duke … [and] it was close to perfect.”
Between the Blue Devils’ success at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional two weeks earlier and their regular-season performances, Duke qualified eight fencers to vie for a national title. Over four days of competition, it sought to best its 10th-place finish from 2022.
The 11th-ranked men competed over the course of Thursday and Friday, and the Blue Devils brought their A-game to the sport’s biggest stage. The headlining performance of the contingent came in the saber event, where senior captain Terence Lee and junior Stephen Kim put on a show. Lee, who earned silver in the NCAA Championships last year, had the most to lose with such expectations on his shoulders. While he did not achieve the same level of greatness, the Hong Kong native fought his way to a ninth-place finish. Not far behind was Kim, whose tenth-place performance ensured that both saberists would garner All-America honors. Meanwhile, sophomore epeeist Allen Marakov finished 15th to round out the men’s slate.
The one notable absence over the two days was that of senior captain Finn Hossfeld, who narrowly missed out on a championship berth. After earning All-America honors last season while being named to the United States Fencing Coaches Association All-Region Team, the foilist’s early end to a storied career at Duke was the one blemish for the men’s squad.
“I was very, very disappointed [about] Finn,” said Beguinet. “I was expecting him to go to the NCAAs without any problems.”
On the women’s side, the contingent fell just short of expectations after finishing the season ranked fifth in the nation. Bringing up the rear with their events Saturday and Sunday, no fencer was able to break the top 10 in order to earn All-America honors.
Nonetheless, the Duke women gave it their all. Freshman Kunling Tong fought her way to a 19th-place finish in the saber, while Anneke Zegers earned 23rd in the same discipline. Junior Chloe Beittel was the sole representative for the epeeists, fencing her way to 22nd overall.
Junior captain Christina Ferrari had the most impressive performance, earning 13th overall in women’s foil. After struggling Saturday to win bouts in pool play, the Armonk, N.Y., native battled back Sunday to redeem her early shortcomings. Qualifying for nationals for the third time in as many years with the Blue Devils, Ferrari proved her efficiency and talent on the strip despite missing out on All-America accolades. She was bolstered by the performance of teammate Rachel Koo, who was right on her heels with an 18th-place finish.
“I think Day 1 was definitely pretty tough, especially starting with an eight-person pool. I definitely didn’t come off as strong as I wanted to,” said Ferrari. “I’m definitely happier with how I spent Sunday … [I gave] everything I had left.”
“She had a rough, rough day [Saturday] … [Sunday] she had a much better day, but it was a bit too late,” added Beguinet.
While the season has come to an end, Duke got to go out in style in front of a hometown crowd. Now, the team’s focus shifts to its next campaign. Several key seniors, like Lee and Hossfeld, are moving on, but the future looks bright for Beguinet’s squad.
“I think the [underclassmen] are all jacked up to do a good job and make everything better,” said Beguinet. “I have a lot of confidence about next year being a great year.”
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Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity first-year and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.