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Fencing: Irish finish behind Buckeyes on home turf

Jack Thornton | Monday, February 27, 2006

If Sesame Street had sponsored this weekend’s Midwest Conference Fencing Championship, the number would be “two.” The Irish took second place out of a field of 16 teams in all six team categories, earning second place for women’s overall, men’s overall and combined overall.

“We did well, but [Sunday] I think we could’ve done better,” women’s epeeist Kim Montoya said. “Not that we sucked, but we weren’t at the top of our game.”

Coming in with the No. 1 ranked men’s team and the No. 10 women’s team, the Ohio State Buckeyes made a powerful statement by winning Sunday’s team portion with 1,325 points to Notre Dame’s 1,260. The Buckeyes took first overall in every category besides women’s foil, which Northwestern won.

“Earlier this year we beat [Ohio State] in women’s, and today they took revenge,” head coach Janusz Bednarski said. “It’s not a shame to lose against such good fencers, but it is a sign that you have to work to be better.”

The weekend was structured with individual competitions Saturday and the team competition Sunday.

While placing second to the Buckeyes was disappointing, the weekend was still full of exciting moments. During Saturday’s Individual Competition, Matthew Sterns pulled off a convincing 15-8 upset of last year’s men’s sabre National Champion Jason Rogers in the quarterfinals. Moments later in the men’s sabre final, Notre Dame’s Patrick Ghattas fell 15-12 to Ohio State’s Adam Crompton in one of the most memorable bouts of the weekend.

On the women’s side, freshman Emilie Prot improved her already stellar season by taking first in the women’s foil, earning the only gold medal for any Irish fencer.

“The highlight of the match to me is the gold medal won by Emilie Prot,” Bednarski said. “She gives us this feeling of potential of a young team.”

Overall, Notre Dame fencers won eight medals in the individual session. Four of them were bronze medals – Madeline Stephan (women’s epee), Addi Nott (women’s foil), Jakub Jedrkowiak (men’s foil) and Sterns (men’s sabre) – and three were silver medals won by Valeri Providenza (women’s sabre), Greg Howard (men’s epee) and Ghattas (men’s sabre).

Bednarski said that perhaps his young team needed a wakeup call.

“I will say it will bring us to reality … perhaps this will teach the kids that good talent doesn’t explain that good teams will come out and work hard. The kids, maybe, were too confident,” he said.

Shortly after the Championship concluded, the Irish were already looking to the future.

“This is kind of our chance to scope out the competition and next week we’ll be better prepared, and I think we’ll do a lot better,” Montoya said.

“We’re going to be facing the same people next weekend, so it’s good to fence them now so we can adjust how we practice for them and prepare for next weekend,” Ghattas said.

Though the Buckeyes’ clutch performance might make them the favorites next weekend at Regionals, the Irish know the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship is not a script for postseason play.

“It’s different at the NCAAs because you can only qualify two for each event, so it’s a totally different tournament,” Ghattas said. “And from this season, we’re much better off than we were last year with 11 fencers qualified, and Ohio State will struggle to get 10.”

When these two powerhouses do collide again next weekend, Notre Dame can count on current World Cup Champion Mariel Zagunis to be fencing for the blue and gold. Zagunis missed this weekend’s event because she was competing in a World Cup event in Budapest, Hungary, where she – quite appropriately – placed second overall.

“There is a lot of work to be done – get new actions, get ready with new tactics against each other,” Bednarski said. “We have a very young team, but young people are very ambitious and want more than they can have, which makes this team very unpredicatable. Give them time to mature and they will be very good in the future.”