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Irish fencing team showcases talent in front of home crowd

Matt Mooney | Monday, February 2, 2004

Saturday’s dual meet marked the first time all season the Notre Dame fencing team showcased its talent in front of a home crowd. The defending national champions did not disappoint.Ten other teams arrived in South Bend with the hopes of besting the host Irish teams. Both the men and the women mowed down their opposition, finishing the tournament at a perfect 9-0 and 10-0, respectively. The women improved their season record to 20-0 while the men advanced to an 18 -1 mark.The dual meet began on Saturday with Notre Dame fencing against Cleveland State and Air Force. Neither the men nor the women had any problem taking either match. The men topped Cleveland State 24-3 while the women dominated with a 26-1 victory. Air Force didn’t put up much more of a fight, as both squads dispatched the Falcons 21-6. The next match against Ohio State, as expected, proved to be the most difficult of the weekend.Against an Ohio State team ranked second on both sides, the Irish faced a much steeper challenge. Against the Buckeyes, the men’s epeeists and sabers struggled to a combined 9-9 record leaving the match for the foilists to decide. But the Irish foilists faced a formidable foe in the person of Ohio State freshman Boaz Ellis. Ellis quickly swept aside both freshman Frankie Bontempo and senior All-American Forest Walton 5-1 and 5-0, respectively. That was when senior Derek Snyder put the team on his back.In his first bout against Buckeye sophomore Alexander Law, Snyder faced a 4-0 deficit and match point. But he battled back, scoring five unanswered touches to win in a 5-4 decision.His greatest test, however, came in the team’s last match against Ohio State when he fenced Ellis. “Seeing where he finished in all the world cups he always does really, really well,” he said. “I knew that it was going to be the toughest match up to this point in the season.”With both teams and a throng of Irish fans circling the strip, the two squared off in one of the most intense matches of the day. This time, Snyder jumped out to the early lead, putting Ellis in a deep 4-1 hole. Ellis fought back and used a furious rally to record the next three points and tie the bout at four. Both fencers struggled in the deadlock until finally Snyder scored the final touch to secure a 5-4 victory.A roar burst from the Notre Dame faithful as the men defeated Ohio State by a 15-12 score. Snyder’s win capped a big day as he finished Saturday with a perfect 12-0 record.The women’s match was even closer.Despite the epee team winning only two of nine matches to Ohio State, junior Natalie Bustamante’s surprising 5-4 victory over top Buckeye epeeist Alexandra Shklar proved critical. Bustamante, who is not on scholarship, showed just how deep the Irish talent pool goes.”It was great because our walk-on beat their top girl,” Walton said. “You know you can rely on the rest of your team and you fence better when you don’t have that pressure.”While Bustamante’s victory was unexpected, help also arrived from the reliable saber squad.The sabers finished with a 7-2 record and freshman Valerie Providenza continued her successful rookie year by clinching the victory in dramatic fashion. In a winner-take-all final bout, Providenza defeated Ohio State saber Syvenna Siebert 5-3, securing a 14-13 Irish victory.Ohio State proved to be the men’s closest match of the weekend, but the women still had to contend with fifth-ranked Northwestern on Sunday. This time, however, the Irish never let put the match in doubt. Led again by the saber team’s 7-2 record, the women never looked back.”We were more mentally prepared,” senior Destanie Milo said. “We wanted the victory more than anything.” The women downed the Wildcats in impressive fashion, defeating Northwestern by an 18-9 margin.No other team posed any significant challenge for either the men or the women. Notre Dame defeated Duke and UC-San Diego on Saturday while finishing off Lawrence, Detroit Mercy, Cal-State Fullerton and