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Fencing: Fencers third at NCAA

Chris Masoud | Friday, March 20, 2009

With day one of the NCAA Fencing Championship in the books, the Irish find themselves staring down a tough road to their first fencing title since 2005.

Racking up 47 points through four rounds, Notre Dame still trails national champion Ohio State by nine and regular season favorite Penn State by 14.

The talented fighters have shown maturity well beyond their years all season, but head coach Janusz Bednarski believes his players will have to keep their nerves intact if they hope to claim a title.

“There’s tension because it’s a big, upscale event and our kids were a little bit nervous,” Bednarski said. “Coming as the No. 1 in the polls didn’t help to build our confidence because for some of them it’s the first or second time being in such a big event, so they don’t know how to handle the leader position.”

Despite the big stage, the men still turned in an impressive performance against a much more experienced field of competition.

Leading the way for the Irish in the sabre was sophomore Avery Zuck, who notched 10 wins on the day and finished in sixth place for the individual sabre rankings. Teammate Barron Nydam finished in 13th with seven victories after losing to Zuck 3-5.

As part of the NCAA regulations, each fencer is matched up against a teammate to start the day.

“The first bout against teammates is a mental hustle because they are friends and suddenly they have to fence against each other,” Bednarski said. “I think that it is something that maybe in the future should be removed from the competition when the formula will be changed, but at this moment it exists.”

In the epee division senior Karol Kostka and sophomore Greg Schoolcraft each turned in five victories, but the strongest performance of the day came from freshman Olympian and San Francisco native Gerek Meinhardt, who posted a 13-1 mark in the foil. Meinhardt topped teammate Enzo Castellani and last year’s foil champion Andras Horanyi of Ohio State to finish in first place on the foil leader board.

“He’s leading the group at this moment, and I do hope that he will be in the final tomorrow if everything will go according to our plan,” Bednarski said. “But at this moment his first duty is to get to the final. He’s the leader, but everybody is attacking.”

With the women’s team facing off on Saturday, the men still have one more day to overtake their rivals on the strip when round five gets underway at 9:30 a.m.

“Simply, the fencers have to just be calmer and not overexcited in the bouting,” Bednarski said. “I believe it will be good experience for them in the future, and let’s hope this good future starts tomorrow.”