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Irish face ‘impossible’ home dual

Ken Fowler | Friday, January 19, 2007

Notre Dame coach Janusz Bednarski is honest about the Irish’s prospects in this weekend’s highly competitive Notre Dame duals, kicking off Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m.

“To win looks impossible,” he said.

With 10 top teams from around the country coming to the Joyce Center for a season-opening rendezvous, Notre Dame will compete without two of its top fencers, who will be taking on international competition at an event in Istanbul.

Irish senior sabre Patrick Ghattas and junior sabre Mariel Zagunis will be in Turkey for a World Cup event there.

Ghattas will return to the team Monday after the Istanbul competition, but in Zagunis’ case, the absence will be more than temporary. The reigning Olympic champion in her weapon has decided to withdraw from school for the next three semesters in preparation for her medal defense in 2008. The Observer was unable to contact Zagunis Thursday night.

What’s more, 2004 NCAA women’s sabre champion Valerie Providenza, a senior, is recovering from an appendectomy, and Bednarski was unsure how well she would bout.

Nonetheless, Bednarski said the Irish are mentally and physically prepared to succeed.

“From one point of view, it will give a chance for the younger kids” to prove their talent, Bednarski said.

Senior sabre Matt Stearns and sophomore foil Adrienne Nott are two of the top fencers who will be available for Notre Dame in the home event. Stearns earned All-America honors in 2005 and 2006. He is a three-time participant in the NCAA Championships. Nott captured All-America honors as a freshman and serves as the women’s foil co-captain with junior Rachael Cota.

Among the top squads that will be testing the Irish are Ohio State, Wayne State and Stanford. Despite failing to earn points in the women’s foil, the Buckeyes finished third at the 2006 NCAA Championships with 155 points, just 10 behind the winning Harvard squad. Stanford placed seventh, while Wayne State earned 10th place at the competition.

Notre Dame and Ohio State are scheduled to bout Saturday and Sunday beginning in the JACC Fieldhouse at around 11:20 a.m. in what figure to be some of the most competitive

“It will be very tough for us, but I believe that those who haven’t had a chance to be starters will … do their best to defend the place,” Bednarski said, referring to Notre Dame’s home-arena advantage.

At last weekend’s North American Cup event in Columbus, nine Buckeyes earned top-20 finishes, compared to six for Notre Dame. Ohio State sophomore Mike Momtselidze had the best finish for the Buckeyes, earning second in the men’s sabre – one spot ahead of Ghattas.

This weekend’s competition is the first of four events Notre Dame will host this year. The Irish will fence at home in the Midwest Duals Feb. 3, the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships March 3-4 and the NCAA Midwest Regional March 10.