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Fencing: Irish take down defending national champions

Aaron Sant-Miller | Monday, October 29, 2012

The Irish opened the Castellan Family Fencing Center with a bang Saturday, as both the men’s and the women’s squads topped the defending national champions Ohio State in an exhibition match, with wins of 60-37 and 60-51, respectively.

“I think we did incredibly well in the team matches,” senior Ewa Nelip said. “Ohio State is a very good opponent and the reigning national champions. Beating them in the first tournament was our major goal, and I think we accomplished it completely.”

Though it was an exhibition match, the match against Ohio State gave the team an opportunity to test itself against one of the nation’s best, senior James Kaull said.

“We were just trying to see where we are as a team right now. It was an exhibition match, so there was nothing really on the line,” Kaull said. “It was our first test of the season to see how we would compete against another good team, and it was pretty even throughout, which is a very good sign of things to come.”

On the men’s side, senior and Olympian Gerek Meinhardt led Notre Dame, as he advanced a 31-30 Irish lead substantially by winning 14-5 in his first bout in the foil.

For the women, freshman and fellow Olympian Lee Kiefer and sophomore Madison Zeiss earned critical wins, as both won all four bouts in the foil. At the start of the women’s foil bouts, Notre Dame was trailing 40-39. The four wins earned by the Irish underclassmen led the Irish to victory.

“I think both Gerek and Lee Kiefer really carried the team, especially late,” Kaull said. “I think we set them up to make a dominating performance against some of Ohio State’s best fencers.

“They just really came through and beat them down. I mean, we expect it of them, but it’s hard for them to step up with all that pressure. They really did an excellent job.”

The women weren’t the only ones to shine in foil bouts on Saturday,. In the men’s foil matches, Meinhardt and junior Ariel DeSmet managed to win their four matches by a combined score of 29-7, including a 5-0 shutout by DeSmet.

“We just played it patient, and then let the Olympians take over,” Kaull said. “When you have that capability, it makes sense to just let them do it, and they did.”

On the day, the men’s squad only lost one bout, as freshman Garrett McGrath won two matches in the men’s epee and freshman John Hallsten claimed one of the two men’s sabre bouts. Kaull battled to two ties in both of his bouts in the epee.

“There was no real reason for me to rush when I have such a good fencer behind me in Garrett,” Kaull said. “That was the game plan. They wanted to attack Garrett and Garrett made them pay when they did. That was definitely encouraging to see out of [a] freshman.”

For the women, the Irish saw a little more difficulty, as Ohio State claimed four of the 12 bouts. Still, victories from Nelip and sophomore Ashley Severson in epee, as well as a win from senior Lian Osier in sabre, helped to the squad cut the deficit to 40-39 following the sabre and epee bouts. From there on out, Kiefer and Zeiss took over, winning their four combined bouts by a score of 21-11.

The Irish also saw success in the individual competitions. Of the six tournaments, the Irish claimed three. Meinhardt won the men’s foil competition, while Kiefer won the women’s foil and Nelip won the women’s epee. Still, the Irish hoped to claim more than half of the individual tournaments, Nelip said.

“Individually, I think we could have done a little better,” Nelip said. “We have a lot of talent and I think that’s still an area for us to improve.”

Luckily for the Irish, that opportunity is right around the corner. On Sunday, the Irish will compete in the Penn State Open, which is solely an individual tournament.

“We’re going to fence a lot of different schools and we’re going to have an opportunity to compare ourselves to them,” Kaull said. “It’s a last individual check on where you are going into the season, and we’re hoping to do pretty well while we’re there.”

The Irish will look to continue on an impressive start, while also improving on the individual level, on Sunday in the Penn State Open at University Park, Pa.

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at asantmil@nd.edu.