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Fencing: Fencers begin competition

KEVIN BALDWIN | Thursday, January 21, 2010

After months of tireless practice and anticipation, the Irish look to make a statement to the fencing world with the start of intercollegiate play this weekend in New York City. In spite of stiff competition the Irish are confident that they can meet and hopefully exceed the lofty standards set by previous squads.
Under the leadership of head coach Janusz Bednarski — former coach of the Polish Olympic team — they have won two NCAA titles since 2003 and have been the defending runner up in team competition for the last two years, second only to Penn State.
In a sport that often doesn’t receive the level of exposure as the likes of football and basketball, the Irish have a reputation in the fencing world as a consistently dominant program, boasting two former Olympians — senior Kelly Hurley on the women’s team and sophomore Gerek Meinhardt on the men’s. Others who have a presence in the world cup circuit include juniors Zach Avery and Barron Nydam, forces to be reckoned with in the men’s saber, plus sophomore Courtney Hurley with four gold medals in the women’s junior category.
In addition to the aforementioned, Bednarski is thrilled with other members of the team, freshman and veteran alike, who have stepped up throughout the year.
“Hayley Reese in womens foil will be showing up [this weekend], her silver medal in the last national championship was not an accident, she is growing as an athlete,” Bednarski said. “We have some new freshmen who are very talented such as James Kaull and Jason Choy in sabre and Enzo Castellani.”
However, the tide may have already turned as Irish fencers bested their Nittany Lion rivals in just about every event last weekend in individual competition at the USFA North America qualifier in San Jose, Calif., with six fencers taking top-10 spots compared to just one for Penn State.
But don’t expect the Irish to rest on their laurels; they feed their drive for success by constant competition within the team, pushing one another to achieve a higher level of talent. Each school is limited to the number of fencers they can send to each competition: five per event for men’s and women’s for regional finals and only two per event for nationals.
“It looks to be an interesting competition not only on the NCAA level but internally here: who will go on to represent us in the finals,” Bednarski said, “They have to compete between themselves, not only against others but in practice which is important.”
It will be a long road to the top, especially since every year the level of competitiveness in the NCAA intensifies as the sport of fencing grows at the collegiate level.
“Fencing in an emerging sport, like soccer, it became more and more important for some colleges especially who want to get more individual sports into the program,” Bednarski said.
For now, the Irish will set their sights on the weekend and use the experience to gauge themselves off of others in order to continue their quest for their first championship since 2005, and continue to be one of the most successful athletic programs at Notre Dame.
“It is better to compete as the underdog but we have to look behind us because other teams are so close that there will be a lot of competition,” Bednarski said.