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Irish face tough competiton in Kansas City

Matt Puglisi | Friday, January 14, 2005

After a month away from the strips, a number of Irish fencers will return to action today when they travel to Kansas City, Kan. to compete in the three-day North American Cup.

Many of the squad’s top fighters are expected to make the trip to bout in the fiercely competitive event, including epeeists Kerry Walton, Amy Orlando, Greg Howard, Jesse Laeuchli and Patrick Gettings, foilists Andrea Ament, Rachel Cota and Frank Bontempo and sabers Mariel Zagunis, Valerie Providenza, Angela Vincent, Patrick Ghattas, Matthew Stearns and Nicolas Diacou.

“It’s a continental competition,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “It will not be easy for the kids, but we are sending the best. This is at their level, and they have to try to get good position in country.”

Five Irish fencers placed in the top five at the North American Cup in Richmond, Va. Dec. 10-12 in most recent competition.

Zagunis took home second place in women’s saber after falling to Columbia University rival Emily Jacobson 15-12 in the event finals, and Ament dropped a 15-11 decision to Harvard’s Emily Cross in the women’s foil finals to claim her own runner-up finish. Ghattas and Walton both picked up a third-place finishes in men’s saber and women’s epee, respectively – Ghattas lost a 15-14 semifinals heartbreaker to the eventual event winner Ivan Lee, while Wayne State’s Anna Garina topped Walton one round shy of the finals. Orlando rounded out the quintet of top-five Irish finishes, securing fifth place in women’s epee.

While the skill level at December’s North American Cup was impressive, Bednarski believes this weekend’s talent display will trump that seen last month.

“I think that this [cup] will be stronger – the reason is the calendar,” Bednarski said. “Now, after the whole preseason training, [the fencers] are starting the biggest heat – they are going for everything. All the best fencers from the continent are competing for their national teams and are already prepared, not like in December where some of them started a little bit later in training – now, everybody will be in form.”

In addition to providing an opportunity for the bouters to qualify for their respective national teams, the North American Cup will offer one last opportunity to gauge the fencers before the Irish begin dual meet team competition Jan. 21 in New York.

“It’s one of the last steps to check their form and to make final touches to prepare them well for the first dual meet,” Bednarski said. “[Notre Dame] will have very strong opponents [this year] – they are the same like last year, or even stronger, so it will be interesting to see.”

After fighting at the Cole Sports Complex in New York Jan. 23, the Irish return home to host the Notre Dame Duals Jan. 29-30 at the Joyce Center.