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    BLOG: Still Learning

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    There is certain bittersweet feeling that is reserved solely for a specific type of person: an athlete in her or his last year of competition. To those that have experienced this milestone in their athletic careers, no explanation is really necessary, and to those who have not, no explanation would be possible.

    I sensed this feeling creeping up on me the second I stepped foot back on campus. Walking into Patten Gymnasium for the "last" first time this year solidified my fear that my time at where I can honestly claim to be the Best Place in the World is coming to a close.

    Like any athlete, I knew this year would come, but I never really thought it would be here. And like any athlete, I stepped back into the gym with my sights set on making it the best year yet. What athlete doesn't want to go out in a blaze of glory.


    Little did I know that I would be doing something with my senior season that I had not once experienced in all 15 years of my athletic career- I would be watching at least part of it from the sidelines.


    Injuries are a tricky thing. You spend countless hours as an athlete training your body to do exactly what you want it to do and then all of a sudden you have no say in the matter. Injuries can bring out the best in an athlete and they can certainly bring out the worst. Most importantly, injuries can bring into focus lessons that were maybe never fully learned.


    The collegiate sport of fencing is scored much like tennis or wrestling whereby individual victories come together to result in a win for the team. Thus, fencers are always caught in a certain limbo, unsure of whether they are competing for themselves or for a greater team good. After three years of competing alongside a spectacular team, I thought I had finally gotten the whole "teamwork" thing down. Little did I know that by being taken completely out of the game, I'd learn what it meant to dedicate yourself to a group of people; to make their hopes and dreams your priority. I'd finally understood what it meant to want the best for your team, to want the wins, the glory and the happiness for your team, even if it meant watching it from the side of the strip.


    With all of this in mind, I'd like to dedicate my last first blog post to the 24 other girls I'll be sharing my last season with. But more specifically, to my foil squad and an amazingly impressive group of freshman that have more than risen to the occasion. I once came across a quote that stuck with me; "The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."


    My last season ever will surpass any hopes I had for it if we can make your first season ever completely legendary. Good luck to the girls as they open up the season this weekend in California, and Go 'Cats!

    Fast-paced. Innovative. Determined.

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    These were all words I had both heard and used countless times while competing for an internship with Under Armour. Over the years I had followed the company's impressive growth, witnessed the "in-your-face" advertising, and was shocked alongside the rest of the country by their fearless uniform designs. Yet despite all of this, nothing could prepare me for what I would experience first-hand when I arrived in the city of Baltimore. "This isn't like all those other internships. You won't be getting anyone coffee here." This line has practically become a cliché in the world of internships, and every college student looking for work in the summertime has heard it before. Little did I know that when it came to Under Armour, this "line" doesn't just hold true- it is an incredible understatement.

    From the moment I stepped foot on UA headquarters, I was on the go. As an intern in the digital marketing department, I was constantly reminded, "Social media never sleeps, Dayana;" quickly, I realized I wouldn't be doing much sleeping either. I was (literally) sprinting from meeting to meeting across headquarters, interviewing the brand's professional athletes, and working at sporting events around the country. Already, I was beginning to note the striking similarities between life at Under Armour and at Northwestern.

    Oftentimes people say that what one learns in school is useless in the workplace. I would be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind during one of my numerous all-nighters throughout the school year. However, during this internship it became clear to me that my experiences as a Northwestern student-athlete had more than prepared me for my workplace. Considering the unforgiving quarter system, grueling schedules, and multiple cross-campus practices a day, my adjustment wasn't a drastic one. Throughout the summer, the similarities proved endless. As I got to know the company's culture, I began to realize more and more what an incredibly cohesive relationship was being formed between Under Armour and Northwestern. Both ends live and breathe their values of teamwork, determination and excellence. Both ends are seen as the underdogs, yet continue to work relentlessly. Both Under Armour and Northwestern don't just demand respect... they are willing to fight for it.

    Naturally, I was hungry for any Northwestern-related information I could find. I spent any free-time I had badgering the on-field design teams and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over new uniforms and gear. I not-so-casually invited myself to the video shoot for the uniform teaser, where I would stand in a corner attempting to exude professionalism, while I jumped up and down squealing on the inside. It continuously blew my mind the amount of authenticity and attention to detail Under Armour dedicated to anything Northwestern-related.

    On the day of the football uniform reveal, fellow Wildcat and ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell first broke the news. Immediately following, my fellow digital marketing interns and I were given the responsibility of pushing the unveiled designs over social media. I watched the very collages I had put together that morning spread like wildfire over the internet- whether it was my favorite sports blog or my friend's Facebook page, the Northwestern stripe was now everywhere.


    Never have I seen such incredibly positive feedback. It didn't matter what critics thought... amongst the Northwestern community, the excitement was undeniable. It became obvious to everyone that Under Armour and Northwestern would serve as a catalyst for one another, immediately catapulting this new partnership to the forefront of collegiate athletics.

    That was when it really hit me. Under Armour didn't just design our uniforms; Under Armour had brought to life the grit, determination, and unbeatable quality our athletes represent everyday. The "stripe" isn't just something aesthetically pleasing, a design to wear on our chests; the stripe is something tangible to get behind, something that is only ours, and something that embodies the Northwestern spirit proudly for everyone to recognize. If there is one thing I learned from my summer experience, it's this: Under Armour and Northwestern did not simply form a new business arrangement. Under Armour and Northwestern have come together to begin a complete and total movement... and this movement begins with reclaiming the stripe.

    BLOG: Winding Down

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    It's been a busy and exciting time for Northwestern fencing! With the Winter quarter finishing up, so is our season, and everyone can quickly feel the escalation leading up to NCAA Nationals over Spring break. Last weekend, we traveled back to NYC for one more go at some of the best teams in the country. In my last post I promised some exciting news and hopefully some hardware, and I can happily say that I kept that promise!


    The foil and saber squads secured bronze medals and the epee squad fought their way to silver, helping Northwestern finish second in overall team standings. With wins over teams such as St. John's, Columbia and Penn, it was a great morale boost heading into the three most important weekends of our season. But with such a whirlwind trip and not getting back to campus until past midnight on Sunday... it was clear that the 'Cats needed some R & R before getting back into to the gym. Have you guys not learned by now that if you pass out, I WILL take a picture of you? Also, shout out to the nice old man who let Kendrick take a catnap on his shoulder.

    We spent the week training hard, but keeping it light-hearted as well. It's easy to get caught up in the intensity of post-season action. I know I want to enjoy every moment of the rest of this amazing season, and stressing out never helps! This week we also finished up one of the best fencing clinics we've ever had. Seeing such a fun and lively group of kids get so excited about the sport of fencing really reminds us all why we're here in the first place. Thank you to all the kids for coming out and being so great- I can honestly say we learn from them just as much as they learn from us.

    We're loading up the bus and heading out to Notre Dame for the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships, which is sure to be a jam-packed and high-intensity weekend. Saturday is the individual event, while Sunday our squads will duke it out with the best of the conference to hopefully bring home some titles. Follow along on twitter @NCatFencing, and check back for my recap next weekend!

    Go Cats! - D

    BLOG: Special Guest Edition

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    After finishing up the regular season with NU Duals, most of the team enjoyed a relaxing weekend off at home in Evanston. However, six of our freshmen stayed on their grind and traveled to Salt Lake City for the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships! Since my weekend consisted of an extended Always Sunny marathon and staring bewilderedly at my biogeography homework, I thought I'd hand over the blogging reigns for this post. Check out foilist Mary Spohn's recap of the freshmen's exciting weekend out West!

    Salt Lake City, Utah: Home of Skiing, Mormons, and... fencing? Yes, fencing. On February 16th, Sarah Bruhl and I departed from Patten Gym at 3:30 in the morning to make the trip to JOs. Upon arrival, we persuaded our coach to allow a quick nap (translation: 3 hours), got our equipment checked, and prepared for competition the next day. The competition on Friday was exciting and proved to have many ups and downs. In the end, I finished 52nd and Sarah finished 69th, out of a field of 141 fencers.  

    The next day our epee 'Cats competed, and once again freshman Courtney Dumas earned some hardware with an impressive 8th-place finish! Freshman Rose Semmel followed in 22nd, and Sonali Patel in 74th, out of a strong field of 151 fencers.  Claire Carson, our only representing Sabre fencer, drew a difficult first round, but fenced well and showed a good fight. Then, in perhaps what was the highlight of the trip, our epee squad proved its dominance by tearing through the competition in the epee team event. The girls fought all the way to a Bronze medal for the 'Cats!

    All in all, I would say that it was a solid weekend of fencing for the freshmen 'Cats in Salt Lake City. Even better was the support all my teammates displayed, cheering each other on in between bouts. We also had the pleasure of seeing our future Wildcat teammates, all decked out in Northwestern gear already (little do they know they will soon be spending the majority of their lives in purple...). The soon-to-be 'Cats finished with strong results as well and cheered us on every step of the way. While it was a memorable weekend and we were sad to leave the sunny weather and scenic view of the mountains, we are glad to be back on campus and preparing for our final competitions of the year!

    We're all extremely proud of our freshmen and future Wildcats for representing Northwestern so well this weekend! And while breaks are nice, I know I'm already itching to get back out on the strip. This Saturday, our travel squads will be heading back to New York City to compete in the National Squad Championships- a relay style tournament with the best of the best in attendance. It's sure to be an extremely intense weekend, so check back next week for what I predict to be some exciting results!

    Go 'Cats!
    -    D (and Mary)

    BLOG: The Best For Last

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    Hey Wildcat Nation!

    First and foremost, I want to apologize for my lack of recent bloggage. It's been a hectic time as we've been in the process of closing out our regular season. In addition, it didn't help that my laptop had a showdown with the pavement of Sheridan Rd. (pavement won, unfortunately). But as my coaches have always taught me- "no excuses, just results" and luckily, I have plentyyyyyy of results to share with everyone as well!

    Our regular season dual meets closed out with the 'Cats finally getting to stay a little closer to home. First, we traveled to the always-lovely town of South Bend, Indiana to compete in the Notre Dame Duals.  The day began on a high note and stayed that way, as we worked our way through 8 straight wins over teams such as Lawrence, Florida, Iowa, and Wayne State. It was then time for the match-up of the day: Northwestern vs. the defending national champions- Notre Dame.  

    Due to the recent addition of NCAA fencing to ESPN broadcasting, it was decided that the match would be filmed as a promotional segment for March's NCAA National Championships.  With one of the biggest crowds we've ever fenced for in attendance, we took on the Irish one squad at a time. The Sabre squad fell to the Irish with a score of 1-8, but the Foil squad brought back momentum by defeating their top-ranked foil squad with a score of 5-4. Epée fought hard next, but ultimately a 4-5 loss gave the Irish an overall 17-10 win.

    Some great video footage of each squad's match can be seen on the Notre Dame Athletics website here.

    The last couple of weekends we've enjoyed the luxury of back-to-back home meets- a great feeling after five consecutive weeks on the road. Being able to fence on campus and in front of our friends and family is always an awesome experience. The installments of the NU Duals didn't disappoint- a 15-2 finish for the 'Cats, Coach Laurie picking up his 1,100th win in the process, and of course our traditional Senior Recognition ceremony. So much excitement just reminded again me how truly special it is be a part of this team. Congratulations to Coach, and special thank you to everyone that came out to support us!

    We've officially wrapped up the regular season, and are looking forward to two weekends of fun competition before the chaos of postseason action picks up in March. I know this team has great things in store for Conference Championships, Regionals, and NCAA Nationals- thank you for following along! 

    Go 'Cats!
    - d

    P.S.- To Juice Thompson, if you're reading this right now- our girl Tina Umanskiy wants to know if you'd like to be her Valentine this year....? Thanks!

    Philly and NYC

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    Hey Wildcat fans!

    The team has just wrapped up one of our busiest and most important weekends of the season. On Saturday we faced six schools at the Philadelphia Invitational, and on Sunday we went up against six more at the New York University Invitational. Although this was only week three, I already feel as if we've completed a huge piece of the season, and I'm sure my teammates would agree with me.

    Our trip started out early Friday afternoon. Thanks to the blizzard Chicago was hit with that morning, we were held up on the runway for quite some time. The optimistic and dedicated 'Cats decided to use the delay as a chance to put the "student" in student-athlete:

    Role Models

    After a relatively short flight, we were finally on the east coast. Arriving in Philadelphia was a lot like arriving in Hawaii, except it was the exact opposite. After what I can only hope was not the scenic route to our hotel, we settled in at The Inn at Penn. Every year we stay at this hotel, and it has quickly become one of our favorites. The rooms are amazing, the people are super friendly, and the breakfast actually inspires me to wake up earlier than seven minutes before our scheduled departure time. This year they even added an iPad to each of our rooms, which was perfect for playing 20 games of Temple Run reviewing some film before turning in for the night.

    We started the competitive weekend off on a high note, cruising through North Carolina, NJIT, Drew and Cornell. Our first challenge presented itself when we faced the host school, University of Pennsylvania. We found ourselves down 12-11 (14 bouts are needed to win a match). It had been a while since we felt that kind of pressure to pull out a win, which was evident when our infamous fencing screaming (which I think caught our new trainer, John, a little off guard) immediately filled up the room. Thankfully, a late win from the foil squad and last-round sweep by epée propelled us to a hard fought 15-12 victory.


    The Dream Team: Coach Ed Kaihatsu, Manager Dan Oh and Trainer John Lee

    Our next challenge presented itself in an old rival- Temple University. Each squad knew that this would be our biggest challenge of the day, as Temple is stacked in each weapon. True to prediction, we found ourselves tied at 13-13, with one last epee bout as the deciding factor. Unfortunately, a hard fought bout did not turn in our favor, and the 'we were handed our first loss of the season.
    Next on the itinerary was the trip to New York City. Along the way, the Cats made a pit stop in New Jersey at foilist Becky Grohman's house. Her parents were nice enough to host us for a wonderful dinner, and I'd like to extend a special thank you to them on behalf of the whole team.

    The next day was one full of highs and lows as well. The team started the day with back-to-back wins against Yale and a tough Wayne State team, but experienced déjà vu of the previous day with a close 13-14 loss to Columbia, and 12-15 loss to Ohio State. The day finished strong, however, with a dominant 21-6 win over host school NYU, and the Cats were finally on our way home from the longest weekend of the season.


    "Girls focus, don't stick out your tongues."

    While we may have hoped for better results from the weekend, I have to say that the volume levels during our matches rivaled most sporting events I've attended. I can't express how proud I am of the team for supporting each other with such intensity. I'm especially proud of our freshmen starters- Claire Carson, Courtney Dumas, and Sonali Patel -for being forces to be reckoned with already. Anyone can head back to practice and work out technical mistakes, but the passion I witnessed from my teammates this weekend is something that can never be taught in a gym.

    I apologize for the lengthy post- I had a lot of ground to cover with back-to-back meets! After a day off, we're back at it and excited to be training for the upcoming Notre Dame duals. I hope everyone is having a wonderful week, and of course, go 'Cats!

    - D

    PS- Update: Apparently freshman Tina Umanskiy changed her twitter name following my last post, but never fear- @UtheMANskiy (idk... I guess she thinks it's clever?)

    Coast to Coast

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    Hey Wildcat Nation!

    I hope everyone has had a wonderful start to 2012! As I've said before, I'm so excited to keep everyone updated on the team's doings, and I truly appreciate (most) feedback I've received from the first post. I was told that I sounded like I "wanted to beat someone up" in my last post (which I must argue, comes with the job description of being a fencer), so I promise to keep this one a bit lighter. I was also told that I should start bullet-pointing my posts so that they're easier to read, to which I must say, Ian Farr... are you 8 years old? Moving on.

    The beginning of the year has been extremely busy for the team, with non-stop training, traveling, and competing. We opened the season with a trip to Air Force for our first dual meet, and then this past weekend some 'Cats ventured a little farther west to Portland for a Division 1 North American Cup, which I'll recap later on.

    And while the chaos has taken its toll on us all....

    The hard work is paying off already!

    At Air Force, the Wildcats defeated schools such as Stanford, Cal Tech and Florida to finish the day undefeated against six teams. Overall, the team won 153 of the 162 bouts of the day and went on to become the Western Invitational Champs. It was great witnessing everyone reach their individual goals, and an awesome note to start the season off on as a team!

    Typically, our first meet of the season is somewhere in California, so I was a bit salty to travel to a city (Colorado Springs, CO) arguably colder than Chicago. However, witnessing the plethora of rules and super strict culture at Air Force Academy opened my eyes to how much freedom I do have fencing for Northwestern, for which I am eternally grateful. (Shout-out to the coaches for letting our multiple self-granted water breaks at practice slide, truly 'preciate ya)

    This past weekend, a handful of 'Cats traveled to Portland, Oregon, for the Division 1 North American Cup. Upon arriving in the city, it was clear to me that I could throw a rock in the air and it would hit at least five disgruntled hipsters on its way down, so naturally Devynn Patterson was back in her element. I made the long trip out West with Dev and Camille Provencal, two fine ladies who have been forced to endure my company around the clock for the past two-plus years. It was nice to have some time to explore the city and we even make a stop at the Food Network famous Voodoo Doughnuts!

    Seven of us 'Cats competed this weekend in Portland. Although the tournament is non-collegiate, everyone was excited to get back on the strip, though perhaps a bit disappointed in our overall results.

    Post-competition, I received some great advice from a wise reader: "You can't let one thing beat you twice." Competing at such a high level provided us with great practice for the upcoming matches we have, and allowed us to get in some high-quality bouts with girls we are sure to face in the near future in collegiate play, so I'm confident that the team will only grow and learn from the experience.

    This upcoming weekend, we're bracing ourselves for a marathon of fencing- Philadelphia Invitational on Saturday, then on to the New York Invitational on Sunday. Needless to say, we've become regulars at O'Hare once again and I'm beginning to feel a little like Tom Hanks' character in the Terminal, but I wouldn't have it any other way (the frequent flier miles don't hurt, either). I've seen what this team is capable of, and I know that we can't wait to prove ourselves against some of the absolute top competition in the country this weekend.

    Thanks so much for following us along our season, and of course, go 'Cats!

    - D

    PS- Be sure to follow the team on Twitter! @NCatFencing

    PPS- Follow foilist Tina Umanskiy (@tweena11) as well, if you're into the excessive ramblings of an angsty freshman (you're welcome, teenie).

    "Fencing's not a real sport!"

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    "Fencing's not a real sport!"

    Countless times I've heard this statement thrown my way, the sender usually laughing absentmindedly and possessing no remorse for the discouraging words they've hit me with. Growing up, I was quick to retort with a carefully calculated comeback. I could hope to impress them with facts ("a fencer's sword is the fastest moving object in sports after a bullet!") or hit them with some history ("fencing is one of only four original Olympic sports!"), but usually it was to no avail. I learned to sit back and play it cool as my life's passion was turned into a mockery for the sake of conversation.


    Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow when basing your life around a sport that receives little to no attention on the collegiate level is the feeling of wasted passion. Completing your tenth practice of the week, jetting back and forth between continents, and finishing schoolwork on the side is no easy feat; it is also never one fencers demand credit for. However, one cannot help but feel a certain sting when told that all this hard work is for something silly and trivial, something that can be mocked, and something that is not even considered a "real sport."


    The overall experience of competing in an often-unrecognized sport led me to think about sportsmanship and athleticism in general. Who gets to decide which sport is "real" and which is "fake"? Who has the authority to call one person an athlete, but deny that title to another? And finally, what is truly the makeup of a real athlete? I observe my teammates day in and day out, and am constantly inspired by their determination and work ethic. Watching such an outstanding group of girls over the last couple years has made me truly recognize what athleticism is at its best.   


    It's getting one more workout in when you're already tired and falling apart. It's staying after practice because you know going the extra mile will ultimately pay off in the end. It's meetings with coaches, watching film, and taking endless amounts of notes. It's spending every waking moment with your teammates, and knowing you can count on them just like they count on you- both inside and outside of the gym. It's the unparalleled feeling of life that will elevate any athlete, no matter how many people are in the stands, when given the chance to finally compete and prove yourself.


    In the end it's living and breathing your sport and devoting yourself to something that becomes a part of you. This is an experience any athlete can relate to, regardless of the sport that they have dedicated their lives to. Most importantly, it is knowing that while the work may seem painful and endless, the reward is greater than anything every imaginable.  


    I'm truly blessed to be surrounded by a team that is the epitome of athleticism. It's been a busy first week back, full of workouts, yoga, practice and a Purple and White meet. Soon, we'll be on our way to the first meet of the regular season at Air Force [Saturday, Jan. 7]. For the past six years, Northwestern Fencing has been unbeaten in season-opening dual meets- a tradition we fully intend on continuing with the six teams we face this weekend.


    Thank you for following us along on our journey, and I'm so excited to keep everyone updated all season long!


    Go 'Cats!

    - Dayana Sarkisova