Jared Smith’s reaction looked familiar. The senior sabre notched the fifth touch of his bout, clinching victory over Stanford’s Donghwan Park. He ripped off his mask, turning around with a yell to celebrate with fellow sabre and sophomore Luke Linder. Both Irish sabres were vocal all weekend, emitting loud yells upon each victory. So, from an onlooker’s perspective, not much changed. And for a second, it was business as usual for Smith.
Of course, he didn’t realize he had just clinched the national championship for the Irish.
“Funnily enough, I thought Luke clinched it the bout before. So I went in, cool and relaxed,” Smith laughed. “I just did my job, won my bout, and then [Irish epeeist] Stephen [Ewart] pointed out that it was the clinching bout, and it was an incredible moment.”
The true celebration followed a moment later, as Smith raised his arms out to the cheering section of Irish fans. As the crowd waved large Notre Dame flags and broke out in a “Let’s Go Irish” cheer, Smith soaked in the moment. “I just looked at the crowd, I knew I did it for my teammates. An amazing experience.”
That experience was enhanced by the Irish competing at home for the NCAA Tournament. It was an experience that Smith described as a ‘blessing’. Smith first qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2020, but COVID canceled the event. In 2021, the Irish won the title away from home, against a depleted field that didn’t include any Ivy League schools. This year, Smith and his fellow seniors got the full experience. Every challenger came, and the Irish turned them all away, earning the right to celebrate in front of their home crowd.
“I just knew going in that it was going to be a blessing,” Smith said about fencing at home. “[Head coach] Gia [Kvaratskhelia] and [sabre coach] Christian [Rascioni] told me it would be an unforgettable experience. It gave me confidence.”
Smith put up a great individual effort, going 15-8 on the tournament. Although they didn’t crack the top four in a loaded field, Smith and Linder both earned podium finishes, ending up in sixth and seventh, respectively. Smith and Linder were among the most vocal in Castellan Family Fencing Center all weekend, jacking up the crowd and raising the energy level in the building.
“Luke and I feed off our energy really well. Our celebrations were on point, we got the crowd involved,” Smith said.
But the connection went beyond post-bout celebrations. Linder and Smith fought together last year as the Irish’s sabre representatives. The duo celebrated each other’s victories as hard as they did their own wins. At one point on Saturday, Linder won a critical one-touch bout to improve to 7-3 on the day. Smith met Linder on the strip, screaming in celebration just as loudly as the sophomore.
In the aforementioned Linder victory that Smith thought clinched the victory, the senior joined Linder in celebration barely a second after Linder clinched it. The feeling was mutual. When Smith followed up Linder’s big Saturday victory with a big-time one-touch bout win of his own, Linder leaped in the air, slapping Smith on the back as the senior celebrated.
“I love fencing with Luke,” Smith said. “He gets me super inspired, and if he wins a bout, I have confidence going into the next one.”
Smith has plenty of experience fencing beyond the collegiate level, on the national championship and international levels. But he said nothing matches the college environment.
“Here, the crowd is getting into it, which is something you don’t see on the international level. It’s super polite, super gentlemen-like,” Smith said. “But here, it’s like college football. You’re trying to win, you’re trying to destroy your opponent.”
More frequently than not, that’s what Smith and the Irish did. While Smith lauded his and Linder’s celebration game, a frequently re-occurring celebration was Smith’s raised hands towards the home crowd. He, Linder and the rest of the Irish welcomed all challengers, Ivy League or not. And they wanted everyone to know it, as if to ask “Who’s Next?”
For Smith and the Irish, there’s nobody next for now. Not until next year. Because for the fourth time in five NCAA tournaments, and the second straight time, Notre Dame Fencing are the national champions. Light up Grace Hall once more.