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Walk-ons fence well for team

Matt Puglisi | Monday, December 6, 2004

Add another gold medal to the Irish hoard.

Freshman Rachel Cota joined freshman saber Mariel Zagunis and sophomore saber Valerie Providenza as Irish gold medal winners thus far this season, claiming first place in women’s foil at the Culver Cup in Culver, Ind. Saturday morning.

Cota was one of six Irish fencers to earn a top-four finish at the annual tournament.

With the six-day North American Cup Event slated for next weekend, the Irish gave their walk-ons a chance to demonstrate their skill and gain competition experience at Culver while allowing the first team to stay home and rest for the more prestigious tournament.

“Generally, [the Culver Cup] was good competition, especially for our walk-ons who had the opportunity to check what real fencing competition looks like,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “I am happy that they had that chance. It’s not a big event – we don’t need to ring the bells. It’s just one of the training opportunities.”

Nevertheless, while the skill level at Culver won’t rival that assembled in Richmond, Va. Friday through Sunday for the North American Cup, Bednarski stressed the challenge a tournament such as Culver presents for first-time fencers.

“It’s hard to win the competition your first start,” Bednarski said. “Those who were stronger like Cota, who fenced already in the past, were getting medals, but others need more experience, more training, more competitions.

“Sometimes it was too hard for them because the competitors are already very experienced. Some of them have fenced five or seven years already and have graduated from universities so they are pretty experienced, but it was good for them to check how [tournament fencing] looks.”

In addition to Cota, freshman Melanie Bautista and senior Tiffany Muller placed second and third, respectively, in women’s foil, senior Rebecca Chimahusky took third in women’s epee, sophomore Jesse Laeuchli finished second in men’s epee and junior Andrew Zodda placed fourth in men’s foil to round out the Irish top-four finishes at Culver.

The individual fencing opportunities early in the season provide Irish fencers with an opportunity to continually improve, and in the process, secure a higher ranking.

Much like grades in the classroom, fencers are ranked according to their skill and performance.

“Some will go for A, which is the top in nation, some for C, some B,” Bednarski said. “It depends on how much you spend on fencing in your life, how much you are talented, how much you work.”

With training progressing smoothly, the Irish are anxious to conclude the early season individual competitions and begin fencing as a team in late January.

“Training is going very well,” Bednarski said. “We are slowly getting into shape, and let’s see how it will be when we start competing in team competition in January. Everybody is waiting for this.”