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Youngsters lead team at NACD

Michael Blasco | Monday, January 19, 2009

Despite having to replace one of the most talented senior classes in recent memory, Notre Dame’s freshmen have already proved they are more than up to the task.

Five Irish fencers finished in the top five of their respective classes in individual competition at the U.S. Fencing Association’s final North American Cup of the season in Louisville, Kent. Two freshmen, Courtney Hurley and Olympian Gerek Meinhardt, as well as sophomore Avery Zuck, took home first place honors.

Irish coach Janusz Bednarski, who guided his squad to second place at the 2008 NCAA Championships, is confident that his 14 freshmen fencers, along with the veteran members, will be able to continue Notre Dame fencing’s winning tradition.

“We have a very strong team,” Bednarski said. “Maybe not the strongest in the nation, but we can fight anybody.”

Competition began Friday evening with the men’s foil class. Meinhardt earned first place and an A2009 classification with his play through the pool and direct elimination rounds, while sophomore Zachary Schirtz finished 55th. All-American brothers senior Mark and sophomore Steve Kubik finished 57th and tied for 83rd respectively. Junior Ted Hodges finished 125th in the field of 188.

Bednarski has praised Meinhardt’s maturity and intelligent play, which helped Gerek become the youngest fencer in Beijing this summer.

“Olympic fencers can be as old as 35, 36, 37 years old. Experience is a huge factor in a sport like fencing, so for Gerek to be there was very special,” Bednarski said. “He is a great young man who not only is a terrific athlete, but also is very intelligent.”

Three underclassmen competed for the Irish in the men’s sabre junior class. Sophomore lefties Zuck and All-American Barron Nydam took home first and third, respectively, each picking up an A2009 classification. Freshman Marcel Frenkel placed 93rd.

Friday’s action concluded with the women’s junior epees, in which two Notre Dame freshmen competed. Freshman Courtney Hurley, sister of junior All-American epee Kelley Hurley, finished first in class to earn her A2009 ranking, while Diane Zielinski ended up in 43rd place.

Senior All-American Karol Kostka opened Saturday’s play with a fifth place showing and an A2009 ranking in men’s epee. Freshman Christopher Pinkowski finished 202nd. Sophomore Hayley Reese and freshman Radmilla Sarkisova placed 17th and 24th in the women’s junior foil competition.

In the women’s sabre, freshman Beatriz Almeida and senior Ashley Serrette finished 61st and 91st.

Competitions finished late Sunday night in men’s junior foil, men’s sabre, and women’s epee, while Monday hosts men’s junior epee, women’s foil, and women’s junior sabre.

The excellent start to Notre Dame’s 2009 season has not gone to Bednarski’s head, whose goal is to keep his team on track for an NCAA Championship.

“It’s very hard for coaches to predict,” 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.”