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Fencing: Irish take fourth in NCAAs

Ken Fowler | Monday, March 26, 2007

MADISON, N.J. – It just wasn’t Notre Dame’s year. But this weekend’s NCAA Championships at Drew University might be a sign of better things to come for the Irish.Notre Dame finished fourth in the team competition to conclude a season that included a surgery and lengthy absence for head coach Janusz Bednarski, the hiring of a new assistant coach for the foilists and the departure of Olympic gold medalist Mariel Zagunis. The Irish beat regional rival Ohio State but fell short of St. John’s, Columbia and champion Penn State. Notre Dame also finished fourth last year.Still, four Irish fencers garnered first-team All-American status with top-four showings – freshman epeeist Kelley Hurley, sophomore foilist Adi Nott and senior sabreists Patrick Ghattas and Valerie Providenza. In all, nine of Notre Dame’s 11 qualifiers earned at least honorable mention All-American status with top-12 finishes in their weapon, and seven of those nine will return to the squad next season. “Happy we are not. We always want more,” Bednarski said as the Championships closed inside the Simon Forum and Athletic Center. “[But] I am very proud of the kids, who kept going. We have new fencers who are showing good skill.”Ghattas became the 25th three-time first-team All-American in Notre Dame history, finishing second to Harvard’s Timothy Hagaman by a single touch. It marked the third straight season that Ghattas lost in the championship bout, a fact that the captain said eats at him.”It’s hard,” Ghattas said. “It’s like the same feeling three years in a row.”Still, Ghattas contributed a point to the team score with each of his 18 victories in pool play. He and sophomore Bill Thanhouser, whose 17 wins tied him for fourth most, accounted for 35 of Notre Dame’s 160 points.”It’s nice to see [Thanhouser] fencing so well,” Ghattas said. “We were solid. … We did our job.”But Thanhouser’s performance was only the second best among the team’s sophomores. Classmate Nott captured third place with a 9-8 win in sudden death over Penn State’s Tamara Najm. Nott finished sixth in 2006.Nott, whose hometown coach was friends with first-year Irish assistant Gia Kvaratskhelia, said Kvaratskhelia’s instruction on her footwork was especially important this season.”I just hope I have two more chances to do this,” Nott said.If Nott does reach the national competition again, it likely will be with Hurley, who took second in women’s epee. The freshman earned 18 pool victories before beating Reka Szele of St. John’s to advance to the finals. There, she traded touches in a fast-paced first period with Wayne State’s Anna Garina, a 30-year-old southpaw senior from Kiev, Ukraine. Garina took a quick 2-0 lead, but Hurley battled back to tie the score at 6-6. After Garina took the next touch, the two traded two double-touches and two single scores to end the period with Garina up 11-10. The senior claimed a 13-11 lead early in second, but the San Antonio product tied the score at 13-13. But that was as close as Hurley got, and Garina took the bout 15-13.After the bout, Hurley said she was upset with missed opportunities that could have put away the three-time national champion.”Maybe in a little while I can look at it as a positive, but right now I’m just so angry I missed those chances,” Hurley said.On the other end of the spectrum, Providenza’s career ended in frustrating style.With her semifinal bout knotted at 14-14, Providenza deflected an advance by Columbia’s Daria Schneider and hit Schneider’s lamee. But Providenza didn’t score the touch because of new timing rules. Schneider counterattacked to beat the senior and overcame Penn State’s Caitlin Thompson in a thrilling final for the individual crown.Still visibly upset with the semifinal loss, Providenza tried to battle back after falling behind 8-3 in the third-place bout but fell short with a 15-13 defeat at the hands of Columbia’s Emily Jacobson.In men’s epee, junior Greg Howard earned eighth place with a 13-10 record in his first competition at the NCAAs. Sophomore teammate Karol Kostka finished three spots behind Howard with 12 wins.Howard, who came to the NCAAs as a spectator last season, said he was less nervous competing than he was watching because he “had some control” this time. That, combined with his laid-back personality, produced a relaxed attitude that propelled him to several key wins, including a 5-2 victory over fourth-place finisher Dwight Smith of Columbia.”I feel like I got a lot better this year,” Howard said. “I definitely became a little bit more focused.”In men’s foil, Notre Dame sophomore Mark Kubik took seventh with 13 wins, and Irish junior Jakub Jedrkowiak finished ninth with 12 victories. On the women’s side of the foil, Notre Dame sophomore Emilie Prot went 6-3 Sunday after posting a 5-9 record in Saturday’s first four rounds.Irish sophomore and Orange, N.J. native Ashley Serrette finished 9-14 in the women’s sabre competition but was only minus-10 in total touches.In all, Irish non-seniors earned 77 percent of the squad’s points. “We should be glad they fenced well,” Bednarski said. “They showed fury. They showed ambition.”

Notes:u With Garina’s win against Hurley for the women’s epee crown, the Ukraine native earned her third title with a championship victory over a Notre Dame fencer. Garina topped then-sophomore Amy Orlando 15-6 in 2005 and former Irish national champion Kerry Walton for the crown in 2004.