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Fencing: Irish send best to USFA Juniors

Christopher Masoud | Friday, November 6, 2009

Following back-to-back second-place finishes in the NCAA Championships, the Irish begin this season looking to grab that elusive title. Led by sophomore epeeist Courtney Hurley and sophomore Olympian Gerek Meinhardt, Notre Dame will send its best to compete in the USFA NAC Juniors today in Kansas City, Mo.

“We have a different team now,” coach Janusz Bednarski said. “One third of the fencers are new, so we are trying to find out from the individual competition in the fall and we will know their strength. There was big enthusiasm brought by the new kids coming here.”

Despite being one of the youngest teams in collegiate fencing, the Irish finished the regular season first overall before falling to Penn State in the finals in March. The Irish will compete in a number of individual competitions in the fall to build up player rankings before the start of intercollegiate competition in the winter.

“From my experience, the team is very strong,” Bednarski said. “It has a blend of very good top international fencers like Meinhardt and a lot of young kids who are competing to be starters. Gerek is considered by me the top in men’s foil in the country.”

Meinhardt, the youngest male Olympian in Beijing, understands the challenges attached to his nametag.

“I have to focus hard against every competitor,” Meinhardt said. “Because I’m at the top, people want to bring me down.”

But Meinhardt is just a small piece of a very talented core of young Irish fencers on the men’s side, including sophomore Enzo Castellani and junior Avery Zuck.

On the women’s side, Hurley and her older sister, senior Kelley Hurley, will play an instrumental role in leading a squad balanced in talent and experience. Courtney is coming off a sensational performance last weekend in the Junior World Cup event held in Montreal, bringing home the gold medal.

“She was first on the continent in the world cup competition, which gave her a lot of points to the international standing,” Bednarski said. “It’s a good sign to win a big world cup event, and she won last year, so she keeps the level.”

Led by the only Notre Dame coach to win multiple national titles in fewer than five seasons, this year’s squad promises to give Irish fans plenty to look forward to as the season progresses.