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Fencing: Season begins as team looks to defend title

Brian Hartnett | Thursday, November 17, 2011

Notre Dame begins the defense of its national championship this weekend when it travels to State College, Penn., to compete in the Garret Open at Penn State.

The Garret Open marks the first NCAA event of the season for the Irish and will feature individual competitions in the epee, foil and saber. Notre Dame will compete against several top teams from around the nation, including Penn State, the team the Irish defeated to win the NCAA championships last spring.

With Notre Dame starting off against tough competition, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said the weekend will be full of difficult matchups, but remains confident that the team’s preparations will pay off.

“We are going into the lion cage, and I’m sure that Penn State will try to get their revenge for the title they lost last year,” Bednarski said. “But the team has practiced with great motivation and enthusiasm, and I think that we are strongly prepared.”

Although the team does return many upperclassmen, it will look for several freshmen to play greater roles on the team. This increased reliance on freshmen stems from several Notre Dame fencers, including senior Courtney Hurley, senior Gerek Meinhardt and sophomore Ariel DeSmet, forgoing this season in an attempt to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“Although we are losing several top fencers to the Olympics, we have many young fencers who would like to prove that they are as equally skilled as their older teammates,” Bednarski said. “There is a real chance for these fencers to show their skills and step in to competitions.”

Thus far, some of the underclassmen competitors have shown themselves to be quite talented, with Irish fencers racking up several honors last weekend at the United States Fencing Association’s North American Cup in Austin, Texas. Among other achievements, freshman Race Imboden finished first in the men’s foil competition and freshman Lee Kiefer took the women’s foil title.

Bednarski was pleased with last weekend’s results and said the event allowed several younger fencers to emerge as potential standouts.

“Individual competitions give fencers the chance to show how they can later be strong fencers for the team,” Bednarski said. “It will be interesting to see how they can get experience from these competitions, which will help us in later team competitions.”

The Garret Open commences at 8 a.m. on Saturday when the women’s team competes and continues into Sunday, when the men’s team begins play.