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Zagunis continues to dominate competition

Matt Mooney | Tuesday, November 9, 2004

In her first competition since the Athens Olympics, Mariel Zagunis continued to chew up international competition at the Junior World Cup last weekend in Louisville.

The Irish fencer took home a gold medal in women’s saber despite having missed a few weeks of training due to surgery on her wisdom teeth.

“She was fencing very strongly,” coach Janusz Bednarski said. “[She] won in beautiful style, [and] it was a great performance.”

Notre Dame posted four other top ten finishers at the competition. Sophomore Amy Orlando placed eighth in women’s epee while freshman Greg Howard finished ninth in men’s foil. Sophomores Matt Stearns and Valerie Providenza both placed tenth in their respective saber divisions.

“They fenced well, we had good results,” Bednarski said. “I would like to have more medals but it’s not easy in the World Cup. But we’re at the beginning of the season.

They don’t have enough bouts yet [to be consistent].”

The competition was a new experience for Irish fencers and coaches alike. The World Cup provided the first opportunity for them to encounter new rule changes which will also affect NCAA competition. The adjustments involve the timing of the electronic scoring devices which indicate when a touch has been scored.”For different reasons, they decided to sharpen the actions,” Bednarski said. “Simply, it’s a much faster sport now in reaction time. Some kids have problems. It’s like a preference for bigger, taller fencers. To reach the target they can reach earlier if you have a very long arm, it’s easier. It affects mentally some kids because they were afraid to make some actions.”

Notre Dame will begin to alter its training immediately to correspond to the rule changes. Bednarski knows that the sooner his team adjusts the better chance it has of gaining an advantage on the competition.

“Now we have to jump and start training with new timing. Those who are more experienced like Zagunis, they very quickly adapted to the new standard.”

However, Bednarski is not blind to the fact that the Irish will need more than just Zagunis if the team hopes to compete for the national title. Due to the team-oriented nature of collegiate fencing, she can only score one point for her team, just like every other fencer.

“We need to have [at least] 12 good fencers,” Bednarski said. “One person doesn’t change the position of the team. It’s not like basketball when one leader can change the result. Here the number of points for each member of the team is limited. If you win your bouts 5-0 it doesn’t count for others.”Nevertheless, he does feel that her experience as a top Olympic fencer can still be of great value to the squad as a whole.

“The most important thing is that a fencer like Zagunis is giving an example because she is a hard worker,” Bednarski said. “It’s the example and the role of the leader is important.”