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Fencing: Irish finish third at NCAA championship

Matthew Robison | Monday, March 26, 2012

The Irish captured third place in the NCAA championships Sunday in Columbus, Ohio, finishing behind Ohio State and Princeton. Notre Dame failed to defend its 2011 national championship.

Irish coach Janusz Bednarski was pleased with the outcome, considering the relative youth and inexperience of this Irish squad compared to championship teams in the past.

“I’m really happy that we made the top three, losing the second place finish to Princeton by only one bout,” Bednarski said. “It was a satisfying moment. Of course we’d like to be second or first. But in general, we had a very young team.”

The fencers had a slightly different reaction to the outcome. As competitors, they wanted to go in and capture another crown.

“We’re disappointed as a collective,” junior James Kaull said. “We go into every championship thinking we have a very legitimate chance of winning it, and when that doesn’t happen, you just have to go back to the drawing board and figure out what you have to do better next season.”

Notre Dame was able to capture titles in one weapon, men’s foil. The top performer for Notre Dame in that contest was senior Enzo Castellani. He was the only Irish fencer to finish in the top three of his weapon. For that effort, Castellani received first-team All-American honors.

All other weapons were near the top, but the cumulative results landed the Irish in third. Some other top finishers for Notre Dame were senior Reggie Bentley, who finished fifth in the men’s foil, and Kaull, who finished seventh in the men’s epee. Both were named second-team All-Americans.

“We performed pretty strongly,” Bednarski said. “From the attack fencing position, it caught up to us because of the intensity of the bouts.”

Bednarski lauded his team’s effort, as they experienced a strong push from Penn State and St. John’s in an attempt to knock Notre Dame from the podium position. The intensity of high-pressure bouts can catch up with a team, Bednarski said. That happened to the Irish on Sunday.

“A lot of kids spent a lot of effort to keep attacking the winners,” Bednarski said. “They did what I predicted they would. They were simply fighting. As long as they had any power, they were under the mood to attack. They did a great job.”

Kaull stressed how different this year’s squad was from last year’s championship team. For that reason, the Irish had to figure out who they were as athletes and as a team during the year.

“We had to just really create an identity for ourselves,” Kaull said. “We had to do that in the most pressure situation like NCAA championships. We didn’t win it, but we learned a lot about ourselves as a team and who we are as competitors.”

Over the course of the season, the Irish had to mature quickly, because of veterans they lost to graduation and Olympic training.

“There were a lot of growing pains,” Kaull said. “We’re growing into ourselves. I think that’s the big theme of this year.”

The result gives Notre Dame something to build on for the future. The Irish are a perennial force in collegiate fencing, and next year will be no different. A stronger, more experienced squad will produce stiffer competition among teammates to earn the privilege to compete.

“I will have a very good situation with competition for a starting position on the team,” Bednarski said. “Usually it’s very good for a team to have internal competition for a spot.”

“[The future] is very bright,” Kaull said. “We have a lot of kids coming back from the Olympics next year. We have a lot of good freshman recruits and a lot of veteran leaders who understand their roles and know how to lead. They’re confident in what they have to do to bring home another championship.”


Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu