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Fencing: Freshmen compete at Junior Olympics

John Sandberg | Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Three Notre Dame freshmen competed at the USFA National Junior Olympics tournament in Baltimore, Md., this past weekend, with Garrett McGrath leading the way for the Irish as he took fifth in the junior men’s epee competition on Friday.

Fellow freshmen John Poremski finished 95th out of the field of 220 fencers from around the country. In the men’s saber competition on Saturday, John Hallsten finished 13th out of the field of 162.

Friday’s epee action started early for McGrath and Poremski, with the first fencers squaring off at 8 a.m.

A 6 a.m. wake up call wasn’t exactly what he would prefer, McGrath said with a laugh, but he’s learned to deal with getting up and competing early in the morning.

The Junior Olympics tournament has implications for those fencers going onto the world championships, but the event is not affiliated with the NCAA and has no impact on the collegiate team standings. McGrath said the individual competitions like that the Junior Olympics offer a different dynamic than NCAA events.

“You have 40 people on the team and every single bout counts for team wins,” McGrath said about the NCAA team competitions. “It’s one of those things where [the competition] is bigger than yourself… [But] in the individual tournaments it’s all about you.”

Though the results are listed in terms of individuals, McGrath said he still takes great pride in representing Notre Dame no matter the type of tournament.

McGrath, who at just 17 years old is one of the youngest members of the Irish, was the overall epee champion at the 2012 Junior Olympic Championships. Even coming off such a successful appearance in 2012, McGrath said he didn’t feel pressure going into this year’s competition.

“I just showed up wanting to fence, wanting to have fun,” McGrath said. “I ended up doing a lot better than I have been doing recently at individual tournaments … It was a good day for me … I didn’t have any goals about achieving anything going in, I just wanted to fence.”

McGrath’s strong showing this weekend was especially important in terms of setting him back on the right track for the rest of the season. McGrath was sick with the flu and did not compete in Notre Dame’s last tournament at Duke. Going into the Junior Olympics, McGrath said he was still recovering and hadn’t practiced for more than a week.

“I was really just motivated to go out there and have good, exciting bouts,” McGrath said. “I’d never had a mindset like that going into a tournament, and after the tournament I realized I’d never had as much fun as I did [on Friday].”

McGrath credited Notre Dame sports psychologist Dr. Miguel Franco for helping him develop this more relaxed approach toward competition. McGrath also said that this mindset that enabled him to be successful last Friday is something he’ll take with him as the season continues.

“After talking to [Dr. Franco] and listening to his advice, this is the first tournament I showed up to and I did so much better than I have the past few months,” McGrath said. “I really think I’m going to try to recreate that… I have a lot of motivation because I know this is the year this team can win an NCAA championship.”

Notre Dame will continue its quest towards a national championship on Saturday, when they host the Notre Dame Duals.

Contact John Sandberg at jsandbe1@nd.edu