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Fencing: Victory is sweet cap for season

Eric Retter | Monday, February 13, 2006

Notre Dame has a lot to be pleased about as the regular season comes to a close.

The Irish fencers, ranked No. 1 in the women’s poll and No. 2 in the men’s, completed two 6-0 sweeps at the UC-San Diego Duels over the weekend, finishing the regular season with twin 29-1 records.

“Frankly speaking, we will say that it was a very strong performance of the young team,” Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski said.

The event’s biggest matchup pitted the Irish against No. 9 Stanford. Notre Dame had strong performances in both the men’s and women’s sides, winning 17-10 and 20-7, respectively.

Early on in the match, the Irish were tied with the Cardinal at 3-3, but freshman foilist Mark Kubik’s 5-3 win over Richard Fulton ignited a five-bout winning streak that gave Notre Dame a comfortable margin it would not relinquish the rest of the match. The run included a big win by junior sabre Patrick Ghattas over freshman Teddy Levitt. Ghattas’ 12-0 performance at the UCSD duels pushed his record to 51-5 for the year.

In the women’s match, the Irish and Cardinal were also tied at 3-3 before an 8-bout winning streak put Notre Dame ahead for good. The run ended when Stanford’s Eva Jellinson defeated Irish sophomore Mariel Zagunis 5-1 in their sabre bout.

Zagunis, last season’s national runner-up and a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, lost just her second bout of the season. She finishes the regular season with a 46-2 record, and her .952 winning percentage is the best all-time record for a Notre Dame women’s sabre.

“She was maybe a little bit sleepy, and sometimes with bouting sabre, it is like Russian roulette, when you wake up it is too late,” Bednarski said. “It’s like winning in tennis 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0; if you are losing one set sometimes, you are still champion.”

The Irish women’s team also topped Army 21-6, Cal Tech 26-1, UC San Diego 18-9, Cal State-Fullerton 22-5, and Air Force 22-5. Junior sabre Valerie Providenza led the women’s effort with a perfect 15-0 record at the event and improving her record to 54-8 on the season, the third most wins in Notre Dame history by a female sabre.

“She fenced very strongly. For a long time, I will say that I did not see her in such a good form,” Bednarski said. “She had great speed, great concentration, and it was a big step forward.”

The men’s undefeated day included wins over all the same squads, as the Irish defeated Cal State-Fullerton 22-5, UC San Diego 20-7, Cal Tech 25-2, Army 22-5 and Air Force 18-9.

The victory over Air Force included sophomore epee captain Greg Howard’s 5-4 victory over All-American Tim French. The win was the highlight of Howard’s 9-3 day, and he finishes his season with a 44-9 mark.

“It was very well seen that the kids worked hard, were very well prepared,” Bednarski said.

But he hesitated to put much emphasis on the win.

“It doesn’t say a lot about our future,” he said. “We will say that we were very well prepared, but our rivals are pretty strong and will try not to be beat again.”

The Notre Dame men’s 29 wins tie a school record set in 1996, and the team’s overall season bout record of 630-180 shatters is a Notre Dame high for wins, eclipsing the ’96 team’s 606.

The women’s team’s marks of 29 wins and 660 bout wins are both tied for fourth best in program history.

After a non-NCAA Junior Olympic event next weekend, the Irish will host the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships at the Joyce Center Fieldhouse on Feb. 25 and 26.