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Men top Columbia, women fall to OSU

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Only one match into the new year, the Irish may already put their toughest regular-season opponent behind them.

In a move that may pay big dividends down the road, Notre Dame wasted no time before matching up against the best in the NCAA, squaring off against a tough field that included Columbia, ranked in the top-five in both the men’s and women’s polls, and No. 1 Ohio State.

In this early season, the Irish, whose men’s and women’s teams are ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in their respective polls, have already tasted defeat. The women lost to both Columbia and Ohio State en route to a 2-2 overall performance, while the men topped all but the No. 1 Buckeyes at the event for a 3-1 record.

Despite these early losses, Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski was not disappointed in his teams’ performances.

“I expected this,” he said, “The beginning of the season is always hard, and first matches will be bumpy.”

While Bednarski anticipated a struggle to start the season, he did not predict everything about the way the teams would execute.

“I did not expect the men’s team would do better than the women, who are stronger [as an all-around team],” Bednarski said.

The men defeated both host New York University and Stanford by respective margins of 17-10 and 19-8, but the highlight of the duals for the men was the 16-11 victory they took from Columbia. The charge was headed by the teams’ epeeists, who won eight out of nine bouts against the Lions on their way to compiling a team-best 30-6 combined record during the course of the duals. Two-time All-American senior epeeist Michal Soberiaj led all Irish men with a 10-1 overall record at the event, while sophomore Aaron Adjemian went 8-2 and freshman Greg Howard compiled a 7-2 record for the Irish epee brigade.

“I was nicely surprised by the epeeists,” Bednarski said.

Sophomore sabre Matt Stearns played well for the Irish, defeating All-American Alexander Krull. The Irish held to a narrow 11-9 margin before three consecutive wins by Howard, freshman foilist Diego Quinonez and sophomore epeeist Patrick Gettings secured a victory for the squad.

After cruising to victories of 22-5 over New York University and 24-3 over Stanford, the Irish women struggled against the Lions for the same reason that the men triumphed over them-the epee. Columbia’s All-American epeeist swept the Irish, and the Irish won only one bout out of nine in the epee on their way to losing 16-11. The loss ended a 41-match win streak for the Irish, who couldn’t gain back the ground lost on the epee. During the match, freshman Olympic Gold Medalist Mariel Zagunis lost her first match as a collegian, falling to Olympic teammate Emily Jacobson.

“They knew each other very well,” Bednarski said of the Team USA teammates.

Bednarski was very pleased in Zagunis, who won her other 10 matches, for how she performed both with and without her sabre in hand.

“Not only greatness makes somebody useful in a team. Interaction with friends [and teammates] made her first time with the team so positive,” he said. “She was able to keep group together by showing example for others despite being a freshman.”

Zagunis certainly performed well in the highlight match of the duals, when the Irish faced the No. 1 Buckeyes, sweeping her three bouts. Senior All-American foilists Alicia Krczalo and Andrea Ament had strong showings, each winning their first two bouts against Ohio State and going 11-1 and 10-2 overall, respectively.

The Irish were in a good position going into the end of the match, needing to win only one of the last three bouts to win. However, Metta Thomson beat Ament and her twin, Hanna, defeated Krczalo before Kaela Brendler beat senior epeeist Kerry Walton in the final bout.

Despite their success the rest of the day, the men were beaten quickly by Ohio State. The Buckeyes got the match-clinching 14th point while the Irish had only 3 points before cruising to the final 16-11 victory. The epeeists again were impressive, posting a 6-3 mark including a 3-bout sweep by Adjemian, but the sabres and foilists both struggled to 2-7 finishes in the match.

While the leaders of his team performed well, Bednarski was disappointed with the results of some of the down the bench fencers.

“Our backup fencers were too nervous to control the situation,” he said.

After the Duals, Bednarski sees his teams’ high ranking as both a strong starting point as well as something to improve on.

“We should oscillate up rather than down,” he said. “Its [a] pretty top position to be fourth, but the dream of each athlete and the dream of each coach is to be first.”