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Fencing: Runner-up finish disappoints Irish

Chris Masoud | Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For the second consecutive year, the Irish finished second overall at the NCAA Fencing Championship and, for the second consecutive year, the Irish left the strip after having a national title snatched out of their hands.

Notre Dame fell to the heavily favored Nittany Lions of Penn State, but accumulated 182 wins over the course of the four-day tournament. Despite falling short of their ultimate goal, the Irish turned in impressive performances each day of the competition on both the men’s and women’s sides. By the end of the championship, the squad featured 10 All-Americans and two silver medalists.

“We just mobilized all the energy, everything to fight,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “We had a very good season and in general, many teams wanted to be second. We are not happy anyway because we have a bigger appetite, but we have to wait until next year.”

But by any objective measure the Irish turned in a truly impressive season, considering the team featured 14 freshmen and missed the support of a very strong senior cast from 2008.

After combining for a 14-0 record at the Notre Dame Duals in early February, the men’s fencing team finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll at a perfect 34-0. The undefeated 2009 season is the 20th in program history and the first since 2003, while the men’s win total of 34 is the highest in Notre Dame history.

Not to be outdone by the men’s team, the women also went undefeated at the Notre Dame Duals with a combined record of 12-0. The women’s squad finished 32-2 in the regular season, tying the program-best mark in win totals originally set in 1995.

Despite the lack of experience at the collegiate level, the Irish did boast some experience at the world level. Olympians Gerek Meinhardt and Kelley Hurley played an important role in developing the attitude and work ethic of the successful fencing squad.

Meinhardt, a freshman foiler and the youngest male U.S. Olympian in Beijing in 2008, believes Olympic experience has immense value when translated to collegiate fencing.

“Beijing will help in getting used to pressure situations,” Meinhardt said in December. “It’s the highest level of competition, so I’ll better be able to deal with nerves that come with playing in the NCAA.”

In addition to the outstanding fencing of Meinhardt, who finished with a silver medal in the foil at the NCAA Championship, the core of young talent was greatly supported by first team All-American Courtney Hurley and second team All-American Avery Zuck. Hurley, a freshman and the younger sister of Kelley Hurley, finished tied for third in the epee at the championship, while sophomore Zuck finished in fifth in the sabre division.

Bednarski, the only coach in Notre Dame’s history to win a national title in his first season and win multiple national titles in fewer than five seasons, believes his young team is well on its way to a national title in the near future.

“Each year is different because we don’t know who will come to support them next year,” Bednarski said. “We know that we have a core team that is very strong and very young. But anything can happen if we make it to the Bloody Four.”