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Fencing: Irish face top competition

Ken Fowler | Friday, February 1, 2008

Two days in February.

Two crucial days in February.

Notre Dame travels to Evanston, Ill., this weekend to take on Penn State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wayne State, Cal-State Fullerton and Stanford at the prestigious Northwestern Duals.

The event is a crucial part of the regular season for the Irish, who are looking to make a mark in their final team road event before the March 2 NCAA Midwest Regional competition.

The Irish are coming off a mixed performance at the NYU Duals. The men fared well, finishing 5-1 with their only loss by a single bout to second-ranked Ohio State. The Notre Dame women, who fenced without top sophomore epeeist Kelley Hurley, finished 4-2 with identical 15-12 losses to Ohio State and Columbia.

Still, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said he thought Notre Dame could have beaten Ohio State if Hurley were in the lineup, but needed a better all-around performance against Columbia.

“The girls, they didn’t have Kelley on the board,” Bednarski said. “So there’s a certain explanation, but of course it’s not a full explanation.”

This weekend, he will get to test that theory.

Hurley, who has been competing in Europe on her quest to secure a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the Beijing Summer Games, will make her dual meet season debut at Northwestern.

Including Ohio State, the quality of opponents this weekend is high. Penn State, ranked No. 1 on the men’s side and No. 4 among women’s teams, did not compete in New York but will duel the Irish, Buckeyes and Wildcats.

Bednarski is eager to get a shot at the Nittany Lions, who he expects will be ready “to cross the blades with us, to check how strong we are.”

With more than a dozen teams competing, the weekend will be physically draining for the fencers.

“It’s twice more bouting than we had in New York,” Bednarski said. “… In volume, it will be a bigger tournament.”

After the Northwestern Duals, Notre Dame’s only regular season team event remaining is the two-day Notre Dame Duals from Feb. 9-10.