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Irish already reloading for next title run

Matt Mooney | Monday, March 29, 2004

Former Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes once said about his great football teams: “We don’t rebuild. We reload.” While the Notre Dame fencing team is undoubtedly happy that coach Janusz Bednarski does not share many of Hayes’ more “colorful” personality traits (Bednarski only strikes a player when he takes part in fencing practice), they should also be happy to know that he does share Hayes’ approach to “next year.”The Magnificent Seven that composed this year’s freshman class (38.9 average wins) are proof positive that Bednarski can recruit with the best of them. His personable demeanor and Santa Claus-like physique make him likeable for all ages. But don’t let his jolliness fool you. He has worked hard to keep Notre Dame atop the fencing world, encumbered by the University’s well-documented academic hurdles and all the hours of paperwork that accompany bringing in overseas recruits. Even though he could only perform so much magic, and his team did not successfully defend its title this year, it is only a matter of time before the Irish fencers are again being fitted for national title rings. Ohio State had best bask in its glory this year, because the fencing spotlight will shift back to South Bend starting as early as next year.Of the 11 competitors the Irish brought to Waltham, Mass., for the national title meet, they will lose only one to graduation – fifth-year senior Forest Walton. His spot will be taken by Derek Snyder – the strongest men’s foilist who sat out the championships with a broken hand. Headlining the returnees is the unstoppable “A-Team” of rising senior foilists Alicja Kryczalo and Andrea Ament. The only reason Ament did not win national titles this year and in 2002 was because Kryczalo beat her en route to an unheard-of three consecutive foil national championships. National epee runner-up Kerry Walton will return for a fifth-year of eligibility. The explosive sabre quartet of Patrick Ghattas, Matt Stearns, Angela Vincent and national champion Valerie Providenza, will only be sophomores. All this, and letters-of-intent are yet to be signed.Granted, this year was difficult. As perhaps the only group on campus that holds itself to a higher standard than the football team, it was painful to watch this year’s fencing team struggle through the growing pains of trying to defend a national title with seven new faces.The entire year was a baptism by fire. Many of the freshmen did not have the advantage of easing their way in where they could hide their mistakes behind older, more experienced fencers. Ghattas and Stearns were number and two respectively on the sabre depth chart, without the benefit of having a senior advisor like Destanie Milo was to Providenza and Vincent.But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And since there hasn’tt been any tragic, untimely casualties during the season, it’s a safe bet to say the fencing community is seeing only the tip of the iceberg of what this team can do.The freshmen need to remember what this past weekend felt like. They need to remember the pain of watching another team celebrate a national title. They need to look up and see the bright No. 1 now missing from the night sky. They are now the seasoned veterans, and no one is going to hold their weapon for them.But if they learn from this, the Irish can plan on putting down their weapons, because their hands will be occupied holding a team