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Fencing: Youth will lead way to NYC

Matthew Robison | Thursday, January 19, 2012

Notre Dame continues its quest to defend its 2011 national championship this weekend at the St. John’s Duals in the Big Apple. Despite its position as defending champions, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski thinks his team is an underdog in the New York City meets.

“We are not the favorite of this competition,” Bednarski said. “But we will try to show all the country that we are Notre Dame, that we are fighting and we will be fine.”

The Irish have not taken a step back in training, but they have lost several key members of the squad to the 2012 Olympic trials. Seniors Ewa Nelip, Courtney Hurley, Gerek Meinhardt and sophomore Ariel DeSmet will not be with the team in Queens.

“We know that a lot of teams are very strong,” Bednarski said. “We are a bit weaker than usual because of the Olympic games, but we are confident that [the underclassmen] can step in in their absence.”

The absence has opened up an opportunity for the younger generation of fencers to step up and prove their mettle. The veterans have been guiding the younger fencers in practice and in competition to ensure that the Irish are not only strong at the top, but across the roster.

“What we have noticed already in practice and in the bouts is a great cooperation between team members, especially younger and older,” Bednarski said. “Upperclassmen, seniors, were helping the younger fencers during the practice and in the competition in Colorado Springs [on Jan. 7].”

The men opened their season at the Western Duals on Jan. 7 on the campus of the Air Force Academy with a sweep. The Irish beat Cal Tech, UC San Diego, Swarthmore, Air Force, Stanford and Florida, including two 27-0 decisions.

Although the fencers have only been back on campus for a few days, their preparation began months ago during the fall season.

“We had training yesterday and two days ago,” Bednarski said, “but kids were competing for four months during the fall.”

Bednarski said he is confident the Irish are prepared after a strong preseason practice schedule.

“The fall was very hard. We worked very hard,” he said. “There was a lot of training. Everyone was working very hard. I think that we are very well prepared. Physically, we should be very well prepared. Mentally, I believe as well.”

Because of the team’s youth this weekend, victory is not as certain as it has been in past meets. Nevertheless, Bednarski is hopeful his team’s cohesion and ability, even without four returning all-Americans, will lead Notre Dame to victory.

“For us, results are unknown,” Bednarski said. “We don’t have huge expectations, but we expect from them very ambitious positions. They will continue to try to improve during bouts and qualify for the national finals.”

The St. John’s Duals run all day Saturday and the NYU Invitational runs all day Sunday. Both the men’s and women’s teams will compete.