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Fencing: Bouts for title start Saturday

Ken Fowler | Friday, March 9, 2007

The NCAA Championships are two weeks away, but the quest for the title starts Saturday as Notre Dame hosts the Midwest Regional at the Joyce Center Fieldhouse Saturday, beginning at 8 a.m. The top five men and women in each weapon – except for men’s foil – will earn automatic berths into the national competition at Drew University in Madison, N.J., March 22-25. Four men’s foilists will earn automatic bids.Four fencers in each gender and weapon per team can compete at the Regional competition, but only two in each discipline can advance to the NCAA Championships. A season ago, the Irish qualified their full allotment of 12 fencers.”Usually we oscillate between 10 and 12,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said of the team’s expectations. “Everybody [is] working hard. I don’t think we have people who are slowing down.”Notre Dame enters the competition a week after hosting the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships, an event with a nearly identical field at the same location.”To me, it’s the exact same tournament,” Irish senior sabreist Valerie Providenza said. “There’s the same people, the same seedings.”Providenza, a three-time All-American and women’s sabre national champion in 2004, is recovering from bronchitis. At times in her final matches in last weekend’s individual competition, Providenza walked slowly back to the on-guard position to take a few extra breaths before resuming her bouts. After finishing second in the tournament, she is confident that she’ll earn her fourth consecutive bid to the national tournament.”I’m feeling so much better,” she said. “I’m definitely tired, [but] my cough is almost gone, [and] I think I have a voice.”Providenza said she wouldn’t think about the pressures of trying to qualify for the NCAA Championships for a fourth straight year. And when she considered what the Irish squad has accomplished this year, she pointed to a fellow sabreist, sophomore Ashley Serrette.In the team competition last weekend, Serrette and Providenza each went 2-1 against Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ 5-4 win over the Irish women sabreists.Serrette, who finished seventh in the individual competition and went 18-2 the week before at the Northwestern Duals, said that she got over a mental block to spur on her recent run. And now, with similar competition as a week ago, she needs to improve just two spots to secure a place at the national competition, which would be more than just an accolade on her growing résumé. Drew University is only a 25-minute drive from Orange, N.J., and getting a chance to go home and see her family is something Serrette will fence for this week, especially since she is staying on campus for break.”I really want to qualify because I think that I am capable of it,” she said, expressing her confidence while avoiding a cocky tone. “I see it as something that is possible.”Serrette’s evaluation of her own future is much like Bednarski’s prognosis for his squad. After falling to several of the top teams already this season, the Irish coach is nevertheless optimistic.”We know that we had a hard year and we are not ranked by the polls as favorites in the tournament,” he said before turning to the positive. “And we know our rivals escaped us – but not by far.”Bednarski said the Irish might benefit from the underdog role, especially against Midwest rival Ohio State, whose competition with Notre Dame he compared to the feud between Duke and North Carolina, which extends into their elite fencing squads.And nothing would be sweeter for the Irish than shutting the Buckeyes out of a spot or two for the NCAA Championships.”We are fighting for the spots – it’s already the national championships,” Bednarski said.

Noteu Fencers who don’t finish in the top spots of their weapon can gain entry to the national competition through one of two NCAA at-large berths.