Duke fencing women lose ACC title to Notre Dame in tiebreak, Travers, Ferrari win individual medals

Both the men's and women's teams put up formidable showings in the uber-competitive conference tournament.
Both the men's and women's teams put up formidable showings in the uber-competitive conference tournament.

One match. That’s all it takes to determine an ACC fencing team title. 

The stage was set for the Duke women’s team to dominate the competition at the 2024 ACC championships this weekend. The Blue Devils entered the tournament as the No. 1-seed and had yet to lose a single team-style invitational this season. Fresh off an undefeated win at home in the Duke Invitational, the women’s team seemed to have what would have been their second team title in program history already in their grasp. This all changed when the second-seed Fighting Irish yanked the trophy out of the Blue Devils’ hands in a heartbreaking tiebreak that ultimately came down to a single match.

Both Duke and Notre Dame entered the tiebreak with two wins and one loss. The Blue Devils’ only loss at that point in the tournament had been a narrow 14-13 defeat by Boston College. In fact, they had comfortably secured an 18-9 win against the Fighting Irish, with Duke leading the score count in every discipline (F7-2, E5-4, S6-3). As the ACC tiebreaker rules state, each team appointed one fencer per discipline to participate in the face off. Whichever team won the majority of the three bouts would be crowned the champion. The Blue Devils ultimately decided on freshman Victoria Gorman for saber, senior Chloe Beittel for epee and sophomore Rachel Koo for foil.

“That was a harder situation for us, because we're not facing them as a team. We're putting our top fencer against their top fencer,” said head coach Omar Elgeziry about the tiebreak. “They had an advantage and the confidence going into the match that they had someone who had just won the individual title, so I think that probably put more pressure on our three fencers.”

The tiebreak began with a competitive freshman head-to-head between Gorman and Chelsea Delsoin, of which Gorman was ultimately able to come out on top with a 5-4 score. Beittel did not fare as well in her match-up against the 2022 ACC women’s epee individual champion and tournament MVP Amanda Pirkowski (5-1). This meant that the entirety of the tiebreaker, as well as the title, lay in the hands of Koo. Unfortunately for the New Jersey native, she would be facing the recently-crowned conference foil individual champion Josephina Conway. While unable to come away with the crucial win against a tough opponent, Koo certainly put up a fight to end the match 5-3.

“This is a sport. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We put on a good show, so I'm not disappointed about losing the tiebreaker,” said Elgeziry. “I think the tiebreaker was just a situation that we couldn't close … Anything could happen in a tiebreaker.”

The men’s side of the tournament was not nearly as dramatic, with the team coming in third above just Boston College. Junior Ryan Pelosky’s 5-4 win in foil secured the Blue Devils’ 17-10 victory against the Eagles. The team was also led by strong performances from junior Allen Marakov in epee, who ended the team tournament 6-3. That said, the Blue Devils were no match for reigning ACC champions Notre Dame (17-10), who came in second, and a determined North Carolina group (19-8) that pulled off a championship-match upset to take home the title for the first time since 1980. Despite being unable to challenge the dominance of the top two teams this weekend, Egleziry’s men’s squad can still be proud of its focus and consistency.

“We fought hard. We had a good match with Boston College, and we had a chance to come back after we lost to Notre Dame to beat UNC…,” said Elgeziry. “We put in the fight, we fought, but those teams are very strong and very competitive … to close a win on them requires a lot of aspects, and I think there were a couple of things that weren't there in this tournament.”

While Duke missed out on the team titles, two Blue Devils came home with some new hardware from the individual portion of the tournament on Saturday. Freshman Samir Travers made his presence known at his first ACC championships, collecting a total of 10 victories in pool play to advance to the saber semifinals as the No. 2-seed. He fell 15-10 to Notre Dame’s Grant Dodrill, before winning a battle against Boston College’s Inigo Rivera 15-11 for third place. Other members of the men’s saber teams, senior Stephen Kim and sophomore Justin Morrill, also finished the individual tournament within the top 10.

“This is the first kind of individual format where [Travers] has had to deal with a bigger pool. We are happy that he performed well, and he pushed through, and he had all the strong sabers in the field. To be able to finish top three was a very good confidence booster for him. He managed very, very well for a young freshman fencer,” said Elgeziry

On the women’s side, senior co-captain Christina Ferrari was successful in her campaign to defend her silver medal in foil from the 2023 conference championships. Ferrari accumulated a total of 10 wins in pool play prior to the semifinals before falling to Notre Dame's Josephine Conway 15-9 in the final.

“Going into this event, she knew exactly what this event was about. She was prepared. With an experienced fencer like this, she was very confident, she performed, she did the job on the strip,” said Elgeziry

Next up, the team is headed to Madison, N.J., for NCAA regionals Saturday, March 9. 

“For us, we took this as a good preparation for that [NCAA regional tournament] and then we said we're gonna get the experience and learn,” said Elgizery. “We’ll see what's coming from there. For the most part, all our fencers fought hard and put in the fight, so I'm happy with how the weekend went overall.”


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