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FENCING: Teams set for national finals today

Eric Retter | Thursday, March 17, 2005

It all comes down to this. After a long season, the Irish, who are No. 1 in the women’s poll and No. 4 in the men’s, are ready to compete in its culmination. Notre Dame will participate in the 2005 NCAA championships in Houston, which begin today and will run through Sunday.The Irish have put in work and had success in preparation for the tournament and seem ready to make a run at the title.”The whole year, we’ve been practicing to prepare for this event,” senior foilist Alicja Kryczalo said.Notre Dame is in good shape for the meet, having qualified 11 out of a maximum of 12 fencers to battle for the NCAA’s ultimate prize. Of the three other teams who join the Irish as national champions in the past 11 years, only St. John’s qualified all fencers, while Penn State and Ohio State are also each sending 11 competitors.The Irish will be sending a team that is rich in both talent and NCAA experience. Of the 11 competitors, eight have fenced in the NCAAs before, and they share a combined 15 All-America awards.Kryczalo, who is a three-time defending champion, will lead the Irish contingent this weekend, as she attempts to join an elite group of college athletes with four individual titles in the same sport. Two other former champions will join her – senior epeeist Kerry Walton won in 2002 and sophomore sabre Valerie Providenza took the title last year. Providenza’s biggest thorn to defending her crown may be her own teammate, as freshman Mariel Zagunis, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, will attempt to begin her own streak of victories.The men’s team will be led by senior epeeist Michal Sobieraj, who is still looking for his first title after finishing in the top 10 every season, including a second-place finish in his sophomore year.With all their individual accomplishments and ambitions, the Irish realize that success will come as a group.”It takes teamwork. We all have to fence well, but we can fence well,” Kryczalo said.