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Fencing: Hurley learned to fence at ‘dinner’

Ken Fowler | Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Kelley Hurley is the youngest fencer for Notre Dame, but she just might be the best.

The freshman epeeist is 51-4 this season, including a second-place finish at the prestigious Penn State Open in November. But her .927 winning percentage – the team’s best – doesn’t satisfy her.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have lost those bouts,” Hurley said of her four defeats.

With her background, the feeling is understandable.

Hurley captured the under-17 title at the World Championships in 2005. Only 16 years old at the time, she climbed her way up the national and world rankings.

Hurley, who learned fencing from her parents, Tracy and Robert, became the youngest U.S. women’s epee junior champion in 2004 after taking the national crown as a 14-year-old. The junior circuit is open to all fencers under 19.

“Fencing has always been taught at the dinner table,” she said. “And everywhere else.”

After taking first in the junior competition at the North American Cup (NAC) event in Albuquerque, N.M., last November and second in the senior NAC competition in Richmond a month later, Hurley ascended to second in the world rankings.

But that wasn’t even good enough for first in her house.

Hurley’s younger sister, Courtney, is an epee prodigy of her own. The younger Hurley took first in the cadet division (under-16) in Albuquerque and third – just behind her sister – in the open event in Richmond, Va. By December, she was the national No. 1 epee in the rolling points system used to rank American fencers.

Needless to say, the Hurley sisters were quite the competitors.

“My sister and I hated each other’s guts for a while,” Kelley Hurley said. “The feeling sucks when you know your younger sister can beat you.”

Kelley Hurley said separation has made the heart grow fonder – at least a little bit.

Now that her younger sister is traveling to domestic and international events as she stays at Notre Dame, Kelley said she can root for Courtney more. Even if they face off, they know it’s not the end of the world.

“I finally got over it when I realized that she would win some and I would win some,” the older sister said.

But then there’s the 2008 Beijing Games. Because the U.S. national team will not have a full women’s epee squad competing, the two Hurleys are essentially fighting for one spot. The Irish freshman entered the year with a lead in the points used to determine the Olympic qualifiers, but Courtney Hurley’s more flexible schedule has allowed her to rack up crucial points while big sister competes for Notre Dame.

Although Irish junior sabreist Mariel Zagunis recently withdrew from school to take a three-semester leave of absence in order to train and qualify in her weapon, Notre Dame’s Hurley is hesitant about leaving the team for any time period.

“It’s between me and her, and she has the opportunity to travel,” Kelley Hurley said of her sister. “I don’t want to take a year off, [but] if I do really well in the summer competitions, I’ll probably take the year off.”

But with the way she’s fencing, Notre Dame might want to start preparing for a year without its young star.

Note:

The Notre Dame coaching staff on Tuesday named senior foilist Fran Bontempo and sophomore foilist Adrienne Nott as the squad’s first fencers of the month.

Bontempo went 10-2 at the Duke Duals Feb. 9-10 and 10-2 Saturday at the Northwestern Duals. Nott was a perfect 10-0 at Duke and 17-2 at Northwestern. Nott also took the silver medal at the USFA Junior Olympics Feb. 16-19.

“I feel like we should show and distinguish who is doing the best,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said.