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Fencing: Irish swordsmen finish fourth at NCAA finals

Kyle Cassily | Friday, May 19, 2006

Notre Dame failed to follow its 2005 national title with a repeat performance, as the team finished fourth in the NCAA Tournament, but individual honors for many of its top fencers and impressive regular season records made the season a success.

The men’s and women’s teams finished the season with identical 29-1 records and finished behind Harvard, Penn State and Ohio State in the championship held from March 16-19. The Irish fell 13 points shy of repeating their title.

“This competition showed the place we hold in the nation in reality,” Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski said after the championship. “During the season we competed well in the format of three fencers per weapon but when you have to compete with two fencers, we had some weak points.”

In the NCAAs only two fencers competed per weapon – epee, foil and sabre – whereas the Irish had competed with three to a weapon throughout their season.

Sophomore Mariel Zagunis captured the national title in the women’s sabre over Columbia’s Emily Jacobson – a former teammate on the U.S. National Team. Zagunis was the runner-up in women’s sabre in 2004.

“I knew exactly what I needed to do to beat [Jacobson] so I didn’t give her any room to breathe and just went out, got ahead from the start and kept the lead,” Zagunis said after the match.

On the men’s side, junior Patrick Ghattas finished as runner-up in the sabre for the second consecutive year. Ghattas was the seventh men’s fencer in Notre Dame history to make it to a title bout multiple times and Zagunis was the seventh women’s fencer to make the same mark.

There were seven Irish fencers to earn All-America honors at the Championships, including Zagunis and Ghattas. The other five were freshmen Adrienne Nott and Madeleine Stephan, sophomore Jakub Jedrkowiak and juniors Valerie Providenza and Matt Stearns. Ghattas was voted the men’s sabre of the year by the U.S. Fencing Coaches’ Association.

“I had talked to the team about this earlier – about how hard it is to win a national championship and also to repeat,” Ghattas said after the Championships. “You saw that this weekend. There are so many good teams now and they all felt the pressure to try and win.”

The Joyce Center played host to the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships during the weekend of Feb. 26 and both the men’s and women’s teams used a home court advantage to take home second-place finishes. Freshman Emilie Prot was the lone individual champion during the conference championships after she captured the women’s foil title.

The Irish captured five victories in dual competitions during the season and on the year lost only once during the regular season as both the men’s and women’s side lost to No. 1 Ohio State at the NYU Duals. The team swept the Northwestern, Ohio State and San Diego Duals. The Irish defeated four opponents – Duke, Ohio State, Northwestern and Chicago – in their home tournament at the Joyce Center Jan. 28 and 29.

Notes:

u Notre Dame assistant fencing coach Zoltan Dudas has left the Irish program to take the head-coaching job at Princeton. Dudas had just finished his fourth season as the assistant coach under Bednarski before accepting the position and is a specialist in the foil and epee weapons.

Dudas graduated from Juhasz Gyula Teacher’s Training College in Szeged, Hungary and spent seven years teaching physical education and tutoring fencers before coming to Notre Dame in 2002. He was a part of both Irish national championship teams and is credited with coaching his epee and foilists to 30 NCAA appearances out of a possible 32 and helping to mold 26 All-Americans.