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Fencing: Irish open up dual-match season with two in New York

Michael Blasco | Friday, January 23, 2009

After outstanding individual showings at the North American Cup last week, the Irish squad opens its dual-match season with matches against St. John’s and New York University this weekend. The competitions mark the beginning of a long campaign that Irish coach Janusz Bednarski hopes will end in the program’s eighth national championship. Notre Dame finished second to Ohio State last year.

“We have a very strong team,” Bednarski said. “Maybe not the strongest in the nation, but we can fight anybody. They are positioning themselves well for the national team, but we are ready to compete now with the best collegiate teams in the nation.”

In this season’s fourth and final portion of the North American Cup, five Irish fencers finished in the top-five of their category, three taking home medalist honors. Freshman Courtney Hurley took top honors in women’s epee, while classmate Gerek Meinhardt earned first in men’s foil. Sophomore Avery Zuck earned the final Notre Dame gold in men’s sabre.

“We never had such a good result like this year,” Bednarski said. “We won a lot of medals – that’s a positive of this competition. I believe that it was one of the best starts in national tryouts for [Notre Dame].”

The Irish, who return 12 All-Americans, feature prodigious talent in both the women’s and men’s squad. All-Americans junior Kelley Hurley, Courtney’s older sister, and sophomore Sarah Borrmann won NCAA Championships last year in epee and sabre, respectively. Sophomore epeeist Ewa Nelip, senior foil Adrienne Nott, sophomore foil Hayley Reese, and junior sabre Eileen Hassett are all coming off All-American seasons, as well.

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

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

“Experience in the Olympic games shows two things,” Bednarski said. “First, it shows that you are a good defender who can play at the highest level of professional fencing. Second, it shows that you can fight on the big stage in front of all the cameras. This will bring calm to a young team that can easily get nervous. Beijing will help in getting used to pressure situations.”

Notre Dame will begin its team season Saturday at the St. John’s Duals in Queens, N.Y., and Sunday’s NYU Invitational in New York, N.Y.

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