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Fencing: Team sends 12 fencers to NCAA competition

Michael Blasco | Thursday, March 19, 2009

Twelve Notre Dame fencers will compete for a chance at a national title this weekend at the NCAA Fencing Championships in State College, Penn. The No. 1. Irish, alongside rivals No.2 Penn State and No. 4 Ohio State, qualified the maximum six fencers from both the male and female teams.

The event caps a roaring season in which the Notre Dame squads combined for a 65-2 record. Both the men’s and women’s teams have held at least a share of the top spot in the USFCA Coaches’ throughout the season.

This year marks the seventh time the Irish have qualified 12 fencers for the NCAA Championships, a key step toward a national title. Since 2000, teams sending 12 fencers to the NCAAs have claimed eight of nine titles, and in 2005, Notre Dame took home the title with only 11 entrants.

Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski said he hopes that this tournament will mark his third national championship since becoming head coach in 2002, but he acknowledged the pressure and grueling toll that the NCAAs can take on a young squad such as his.

“They’ll be OK,” Bednarski said. “Although we’re young, we have some very experienced fencers who’ve been fencing all over the globe. NCAA competitions have a level of stress, a different environment, but I believe the young kids will adapt.”

Still, the level of competition Notre Dame will face will be the stiffest of the season, with a large and deep pool of competitors to wade through.

“We’re aware of our primary rivals, Penn State and Ohio State, but there’s a very strong team in Columbia,” Bednarski said. “The pool is strong. I think it will really come down to the last minutes of the competition on Sunday with everyone being so strong. By the end, the psychology of the team will be much more important.”

The men’s bouts will begin Thursday and conclude with the medal round Friday afternoon. Senior All-American Karol Kostka and sophomore Greg Schoolcraft will represent the Irish in the epee class. This year will be Kostka’s fourth year competing in the NCAAs.

In foil, Notre Dame is young, sending freshman Olympian Gerek Meinhardt and freshman Enzo Castellani. Sophomore Avery Zuck and All-American Barron Nydam, competing in the sabre division, round out the men’s team.

On the women’s side, the Irish send a deep and experienced lineup to the Saturday bouts. Sophomore All-American Ewa Nelip and freshman Courtney Hurley will fence in the epee division, while sophomore All-American Hayley Reese and senior All-American Adrienne Nott represent the foil contingent. Nott, like Kostka, is making her fourth visit to the NCAAs. Sophomore All-Americans Sarah Borrmann and Eileen Hassett will compete in sabre, with Borrmann looking to defend her 2008 national title.

The tournament will be held at the Penn State Multi-Sports Facility in State College, Penn. Last season, Notre Dame placed second in the NCAA Championships. The Irish have claimed titles three times, in 1994, 2003 and 2005.