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Fencing: A third No. 1 team in the mix: men’s fencers

Michael Blasco | Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Despite graduating one of the most outstanding senior classes in the nation, the Irish fencers haven’t missed a beat.

The Notre Dame men’s squad opened the season ranked No. 1 and the women’s squad No. 2 in the nation in the first U.S. Fencing Coaches’ Association poll of the spring. The men’s team joins the women’s soccer and men’s hockey teams as Irish teams ranked first in the nation this year.

Notre Dame head coach Janusz Bednarski, who has guided Irish teams to two national championships in his seven years with the program, said that he doesn’t put much stock in polls.

“It’s very hard for coaches to predict [results],” Bednarski said. “I’ve been in this business for so long. There are so many factors we can’t control, especially on such a young team. But anything can happen if we make it to the Bloody Four.”

The Irish men are tied for first with Penn State, ahead of Ohio State, Columbia and Princeton in the men’s top-five. In the women’s poll, Notre Dame trails first-place Penn State; Ohio State, Columbia-Barnard and Harvard round out the women’s top-five.

The Irish, who return 12 All-Americans, feature prodigious talent in both the women’s and men’s squad. All-Americans junior Kelley Hurley, her older sister of Courtney and sophomore Sarah Borrmann earned the mantle of NCAA Champion in epee and sabre, respectively, while sophomore epeeist Ewa Nelip, senior foil Adrienne Nott, sophomore foil Hayley Reese and junior sabre Eileen Hassett all come off All-America seasons.

The men’s team returns six All-Americans. Senior epeeist Karol Kostka, senior foil Mark Kubik, sophomore foils Steve Kubik, Mark’s younger brother, and Zach Schirtz, senior sabre Bill Thanhouser, and sophomore sabre Barron Nydam have all earned the distinction.

Newcomers Gerek Meinhardt and Hurley have already made a splash in the world of fencing. Hurley won the 2006 Cadet World Championship in Korea, while Meinhardt joined Kelley Hurley to represent the U.S. in last summer’s Olympics. Meinhardt was the youngest fencer to compete for the U.S. in Beijing.

“We have a very strong team,” Bednarski said. “There are so many factors we can’t control on such a young team. But anything can happen. We are ready to compete now with the best collegiate teams in the nation.”

The poll was released before the weekend’s duals in which the Notre Dame men posted five wins against top-10 teams and three for the women.

This week’s USFCA poll is the first of three. The final poll will be released in March, after the NCAA Regional Qualifiers. Notre Dame will return to the strip on Saturday against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill.