The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Fencing: Irish grab two more bids, send 12 to Houston

John Thornton | Friday, March 10, 2006

Notre Dame will attempt to defend its national title starting Thursday, March 16 at the NCAA Championship meet in Houston, Texas.

The young squad received some good news this week when junior epeeist Amy Orlando and sophomore foilist Jakub Jedrkowiak received the two national at-large bids, giving the Irish the maximum qualifying number of 12.

But Notre Dame isn’t the only school headed to Texas with a big squad. Penn State and Harvard also qualified the full 12, while St. John’s and Columbia are sending 11.

“The chances are we [will] have a very tough tournament – we have at least four or five teams who contend to fight for the National Championship, for three medals,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said.

Harvard presents one of the strongest challenges as the Crimson men are No. 4 and the No. 3 women’s team is anchored by 2005 foilist national champion Emily Cross.

Ohio State, who won the championship in 2004, qualified the maximum six fencers on the men’s side, but only three for the women.

“Even [Ohio State], with nine opponents, can be very dangerous,” Bednarski said.

Notre Dame’s biggest obstacle might not be any of the national powerhouses, but inexperience. Five of the team’s fencers will be first-timers.

“We’re a young team, very young, younger than the others, which makes us unpredictable,” Bednarski said. “But last year’s championship team was a bit more experienced because we had at least five more seniors, but these fencers, they will fight.”

The Irish roster boasts six All-Americans, a national champion (Providenza, 2004 sabre) and three national runners-up (Zagunis, 2005 sabre; Ghattas, sabre; Orlando, 2005 epee). Bednarski has confidence that his upperclassmen can help carry the load.

“All [of the] team has to step up … of course our kids who are experienced – we have an Olympic Champion, we have a National Champion, we have runners-up, I believe they will step up to take those freshmen [on a] ride [of] excellence,” Bednarski said.

Notre Dame earned 10 automatic bids at last week’s Midwest Regional in Cleveland, but Jedrkowiak and Orlando placed just outside the berth cutoff, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively. Both Orlando and Jedrkowiak had strong seasons and performed well at last year’s NCAA meet, factors that likely helped them earn the bids.

Filling out the roster are junior sabers Valerie Providenza, Patrick Ghattas and Matt Stearns, sophomore sabre Mariel Zagunis, junior epeeist Aaron Adjemian, sophomore foilist Melanie Bautista, freshman foilists Mark Kubik and Adrienne Nott, and freshman epeeists Karol Kostka and Madeleine Stephan.

Heading to Houston as alternates are sophomore epeeist Greg Howard, junior foilist Frank Bontempo, freshman sabre Bill Thanhouser and freshman foilist Emilie Prot.

The competition will begin Thursday with women’s pool bouts and proceed through the women’s finals on Friday. Fencers will endure a 24-person round robin of 5-touch bouts, with the top four seeds competing in direct elimination for the top prize. The direct elimination fights will not count toward the team score.

The men will fence Saturday and Sunday. There will be a total of 144 fencers at the tournament.