Blue and Gold Illustrated

December 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 40 of 47 DECEMBER 2018 41 ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE N otre Dame sophomore Nick Itkin is only one full season into his college fencing career, but he already has learned what it means to be part of the best college program in the country. Back-to-back national champion- ships provide plenty of fame and welcome attention. It also brings the added pressure of trying to win a third straight title when every oppo- nent is ready to take his best shot at the best team. "It's difficult because everyone has our name in their head," said Itkin, a California native who started fenc- ing at about the age of 7. "Everybody wants to go out and beat us. That's their main focus. We treat each tour- nament individually and don't get in over our heads. "We know that we are capable of beating anyone, but we have to keep improving." Itkin is part of an Irish youth move- ment that is paying huge dividends for Notre Dame head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia. Itkin rolled through the national championships last year to become the first Irish men's foilist to win an individual NCAA title since Gerek Meinhardt in 2014. Son of a fencing coach, Itkin also became the first U.S. fencer last sea- son to win the individual Junior World championship, Division I (U.S. Fencing) title and the NCAA championship in the same season. Itkin's dream is to keep improving and earn a medal at the 2020 Olym- pics in Tokyo. "This is a goal of mine since I started fencing," he said, "and has been in my head for years." And in some dire news for the competition, Itkin believes his train- ing will be stronger than ever this season because this Irish team should be better than each of the previous two. "Now that we have back-to-back strong teams," Itkin said, "I think the younger kids see that, and they are more interested in coming to Notre Dame because we have such a suc- cessful program. "That just improves our training. We have better fencers to work with, and overall it just strengthens our program." Kvaratskhelia considers the two consecutive titles a statement. "It just shows the health of the program," he said. "We can say that Notre Dame is back." However, he constantly reminds his athletes to the dangers of looking too far forward or too far back. "We never talk about tomorrow, and that's a rule here," he said. "Tar- get or no target, we know it's out there. It's up to us to go out there ev- ery single day and prove to ourselves who we are. "Everything else is just back- ground noise, and no one really cares about it." And as far as this season, the ap- proach remains the same. "Every year brings a new begin- ning," Kvaratskhelia said. "The only expectation is to come here and work hard every single day and let the re- sults take care of themselves." Taking no time to rest on any lau- rels, Kvaratskhelia raved about the offseason work his team put in with its Navy SEALS training program that was implemented before the 2017-18 season. The mission is to keep the group "humble and hungry." "We completely changed our ap- proach," Kvaratskhelia said. "We never pay attention to any rankings. We never pay attention to who we are competing against. Our only competition is ourselves. "We know that we have enough talent to be on par with everyone else. Everything else is psychological, and we earn everything else through preparation." ✦ Nick Itkin And The Irish Fencers Take Aim At A Third Straight National Title Last year, Itkin became the first Irish men's foilist to win an individual NCAA title since Gerek Meinhardt in 2014. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH DIGITAL MEDIA

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