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FENCING:Teams do well at MWCC’s

Eric Retter | Monday, February 28, 2005

The Irish believe that team success is more important than individual glory – or at least they act that way.

After Saturday’s team competition in the Mid-Western Collegiate Championships, some of Notre Dame’s top fencers, including senior epeeist Alicjo Kryczalo and freshman sabre Mariel Zagunis, sat out of Sunday’s individual tournament in order to heal injuries and rest before the NCAA regional meet, which begins this weekend.

As it turns out, Notre Dame triumphed in both events, as both the No. 1 women’s team and the No. 4 men’s squad swept Sunday’s individual competition, taking all six events. Meanwhile, the women also took first place in Saturday’s team contest as the men finished in second behind top-ranked Ohio State.

“I don’t know if it is the moment to celebrate. I know that we have big events coming up, [but] good results are good results,” he said. “I won’t say that I’m not happy.”

Preparing for these big events, the NCAA regionals and finals, Kryczalo and Zagunis did not compete in the individual championship – an event both of them would have had a good chance of winning.

“They competed in the most important bouts, [but] we didn’t want to risk the NCAA position of [Kryczalo and Zagunis],” Bednarski said. “It’s the end of the season, and bouting brings a toll.”

The most important bout each of them competed in were in the team finals, as both led their respective weapons against Ohio State. Kryczalo and two-time NCAA runner-up Andrea Ament both fell to the Buckeyes’ All-American Hanna Thompson. Then both rallied to beat her twin sister, Metta, and lead the Irish to a 5-4 win in the women’s foil final. The women’s sabre team, on the other hand, fell to Ohio State by the same score despite an undefeated performance by Zagunis.

“Zagunis was beautiful in her bouts with Northwestern and Ohio State,” Bednarski said.

Despite their overall victory, the foil was the only event Notre Dame won as a team. The Irish finished 3rd in women’s epee, losing their semifinal match to a strong Wayne State team led by Anna Vinnikov and defending NCAA champion Anna Garina, both of whom swept the top Irish pairing of senior Kerri Walton and sophomore Amy Orlando.

In the men’s division, Notre Dame was undefeated except for losses to Ohio State in each of the three weapons, finishing second in sabre and third in foil and epee.

The loss in the semifinals marked the first loss of the season for the Irish epee team. Ohio State clinched the 5-3 victory when All-American Dennis Tolkachev defeated senior Michal Sobieraj 5-2, marking the first time Sobieraj had lost to his rival.

Freshman Jakub Jedrkowiak led the Irish in the men’s foil, going 7-1 on Saturday before losing to defending champion Boaz Ellis of Ohio State in the semifinals, a match the Buckeyes won 5-2. After the loss, Notre Dame topped Northwestern 5-2 to take third place.

In the sabre, the Irish again lost to Ohio State – this time in the finals. Notre Dame showed lots of promise in their 5-2 loss, as sophomores Patrick Ghattas and Matt Stearns each registered victories against strong Buckeyes opponents, beating two-time defending NCAA champ Adam Crompton and All-American Jason Paul, respectively.

On Sunday, the Irish had a much easier path, as their team tournament nemesis Ohio State withdrew from the individual competition.

“When Ohio [State] left, the competition was much weaker, but our kids fenced well,” Bednarski said.

These strong performances began in women’s epee, as Walton and Orlando both defeated their Wayne State opponents Garina and Vinnikov in the semifinals to set up an all-Notre Dame final, which Walton won 15-14.

“Our fencers are strong and Wayne State is strong. If we fenced Monday maybe results would be different again; it’s tough to predict,” Bednarski said of the budding rivalry.

Two other Notre Dame seniors, Ament and Sobieraj, triumphed as well in their final career performance in the Joyce Center. Ament pulled off an impressive comeback in the final, falling behind 8-1 to Northwestern’s Jessica Florindo before rallying for a 15-11 victory.

Sobieraj took his victory in another all-Irish final, defeating teammate Jesse Laeuchli 15-9.

“He has to learn to be better at the beginning of the day, but he was very focused Sunday,” Bednarski said.

The sweep was completed by victories by sophomore Frank Botempo in men’s foil, and by Ghattas and Valerie Providenza in each sabre final.

“We won everything that was possible to win. It was a good tournament for us,” Bednarski said.

The Irish will now turn their attention to maximizing success in next weekend’s NCAA regionals.

“We hope to cure our bruises from this competition. Our goal will not be losing the confidence we’ve built but keeping the attention that in sports, you can’t say I am good, but [realize] that the opponent wants to beat you,” he said.