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ND Fencing:No. 2 Irish prepare to compete in NCAA Championships

Ken Fowler | Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ohio State has everything going for it – a full set of qualifiers, the aura of the presumptive favorites and, perhaps most importantly, home-strip advantage.

That’s what Notre Dame faces beginning today in the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, where the fearsome Buckeyes look to prove the coaches who vote in the polls right and collect the national title.

“If they handle this [and win], that’s normal,” Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski said of the Buckeyes. “But there are three other teams that are trying to deter them. Among them, I am happy we are part of that group.”

Ohio State, ranked No. 1 on the women’s side and No. 2 among men, and Notre Dame are two of four teams to qualify the maximum 12 fencers – two fencers per sex per weapon. The other two teams with the maximum squads are Columbia and St. John’s.

Penn State, the defending champions, qualified 11 fencers, and 2006 champion Harvard qualified 10.

Notre Dame captured NCAA titles in 2003 and 2005; Ohio State won in 2004. This weekend might feature a close competition between the two teams with mutual respect – and hostility – toward each other.

Both Ohio State and Notre Dame are skilled in every weapon, but the two squads have different strengths. For the Buckeyes to win, their top fencers must win or at least make the finals in many of the events. For the Irish to win, they must use their unparalleled depth to score a large number of points from all 12 competitors.

That dichotomy was on display March 2 in Detroit at the NCAA Midwest Regional. Ohio State won five of six individual titles, but Notre Dame captured 11 medal positions, compared to the Buckeyes’ seven.

“Ohio State is a very strong team,” Bednarski said. “Probably by names, it’s the best.”

The competition begins today with women’s pool bouts. The women’s final pool bouts and direct-elimination championship bracket matchups will be held Friday. The men will have a similar schedule Saturday and Sunday.

Notre Dame had a light and unstructured practice Monday at the Langford Gymnasium in the Joyce Center before leaving for the competition on Tuesday. Irish assistant coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said from Columbus Wednesday that only a few members of the team were lightly exercising during the allotted training session.

Kvaratskhelia said the most important physical preparation for the Irish would be probably to “hydrate and get in bed on time.”

“We trained all year for that, all year to develop the strength and endurance,” he said.

Sophomore Kelley Hurley took the silver in epee last season, and junior Adi Nott finished third in foil.

“She’s pretty confident,” Kvaratskhelia said of Nott, who he coaches as the foil instructor. “I think she’s hit the peak of the performance the last two weeks and this week.”