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FENCING: Team has high hopes for USFA tournament

Mike Gilloon | Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Notre Dame’s best fencers will venture out of the realm of collegiate competition this weekend when they travel to Pittsburgh for the United States Fencing Association (USFA) North American Cup.

The meet, beginning Friday at 10 a.m. at the Lawrence Convention Center, features a field of the top national competitors looking for a spot on the USFA national team.

“This tournament is very important because they will fence against the best in America,” Notre Dame coach Janusz Bednarski said. “It is a very high class tournament. It’s a step up in their experience.”

Since the tournament is run by the USFA and not the NCAA, Irish fencers have to pay their own way and are competing as individuals not connected to any collegiate team.

“Whether they go to [the meet] is up to the fencers,” Bednarski said. “I will go as an observer, just to see how they compete.”

Several of the 17 Irish fencers expected to compete in the tournament are favorites to place highly. Bednarski mentioned women’s saber competitors Mariel Zagunis and Valerie Providenza as two of the top-rated Notre Dame fencers traveling to Pittsburgh.

“For some, like Zagunis [a 2004 Olympic gold medalist], they will fight to be winners,” Bednarski said. “For some others they will fight for higher rankings.”

Irish fencers competing in the tournament on the men’s side will be Greg Howard, Patrick Gettings and Jesse Laeuchli in the epee; Frank Bontempo and Mark Kubik in the foil; and Bill Thanhouser, Patrick Ghattas, Matt Stearns and Nicolas Diacou in saber.

For the women, Zagunis and Providenza will compete in saber, Adrienne Nott in foil and Amy Orlando, Rebecca Chimahusky and Kimberlee Montoya in epee.

The Irish individuals enter the national competition after a strong team performance in the Northwestern Duals held Nov. 20 in Evanston, Ill. Both squads finished with 6-0 records, headlined by the womens’ 21-6 victory over the host Wildcats, who Bednarski considers one of the better squads in the nation.

“We were very, very surprised by how quickly we demolished the Northwestern team,” Bednarski said. “We fenced well. We very quickly got a lead and very quickly finished off the competition.”

Zagunis and foilist Emilie Prot swept through the duals without a loss as the Notre Dame women won 84 percent of their bouts in wins over Johns Hopkins (26-1), Stanford (22-5), 21-6 over Northwestern and California-San Diego and 23-4 over both North Carolina and Cal State Fullerton.

The men were equally impressive in the duals, winning 77 percent of their matches. Howard, Ghattas and Stearns combined for a record of 37-7 in wins over Northwestern (25-2), North Carolina (22-5), Stanford (15-12), California-San Diego (21-6), Johns Hopkins (18-9) and Cal-State Fullerton (24-3).

Notre Dame’s next team event will be the NYU Duals in New York City on Jan. 22. By then, the national standings should be out and the Irish expect to be highly ranked.

“We have a lot of hard workers and a lot of very talented kids,” Bednarski said. “We’re very excited for the season.”