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Fencing: Notre Dame looks to earn berths to NCAA Championships

Jack Thornton | Friday, March 3, 2006

The Irish are poised to qualify several fencers for the NCAA Championships at the Midwest Fencing Regional this Saturday in Cleveland, Ohio.

The top five finishers in all of the women’s events as well as men’s sabre and epee will qualify for the NCAAs. For the Men’s Foil, only the top three finishers in the Regional earn a berth.

Unlike last weekend’s Midwest Fencing Conference Championship, the Regionals is based solely on individual competition. The meet will feature pool play followed by direct elimination.

Individuals from each team will compete in all three weapons to earn a berth to the NCAA Championships in Houston, Tex. March 15-19.

“It’s team-oreiented in the sense that whatever team qualifies more people for the NCAAs has a better chance of winning,” men’s foilist Mark Kubik said. “Basically everyone will be supporting each other so we get two qualifiers [in each weapon], but on the whole it’s individual.”

The qualification process is slated so that 40 percent of the score depends on initial seeding, and the remaining 60 percent depends on Saturday’s performance.

Each team is allotted only two fencers per weapon, for a total of six fencers per sex and 12 overall.

That added stipulation means that some of Notre Dame’s fencers – despite a top five ranking – might not qualify.

“Many will be fencing against each other for a position,” Kubik said. “It’s going to be a pretty stressful weekend, and I wouldn’t say a lot of them are worried, but they’re pretty anxious. It’s probably going to be the most tense match of the year.”

The initial seedings have already been decided and the early returns are very positive for Notre Dame. On the men’s side, Karol Kostka, Greg Howard and Aaron Adjemian are all ranked in the top four of epee, whlie Mark Kubik and Jakub Jedrkowiak are 1-2 in foil. In the sabre, Patrick Ghattas, Matt Stearns and Bill Thanhouser hold the top three spots, meaning two will most likely qualify while one will not.

Neither fencer has a definitive experience advantage, either. Stearns competed at Nationals the last two years, while Thanhouser is one of the most highly ranked Americans on the Junior International Circuit.

While the Thanhouser-Stearns competition will be exciting, things are just as intriguing on the women’s side.

In women’s epee, the top three spots belong to Wayne State’s Anna Garina and Justyna Konczalska and Northwestern’s Sharon Sullivan, while Notre Dame’s Amy Orlando and Madeleine Stephan round out the top-five.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people who should definitely qualify for women’s epee, and there’s also only two spots and four really good girls,” women’s sabre Ashley Serrette said.

Notre Dame also has Adrienne Nott, Emilie Prot and Melanie Bautista in the top five of women’s foil, and Mariel Zagunis and Valerie Providenza 1-2 in women’s sabre. If Notre Dame can perform to its seedings (as well as Northwestern and Wayne State), rival Ohio State might only send one female fencer to the national championship meet.

In total, Notre Dame has 15 fencers currently in qualifying position while the Buckeyes only have four. Last week, Ohio State beat Notre Dame overall in the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship.

Since last week’s second place finish, the team has switched its focus to technique and overall fencing experience.

“Basically the full squad has been trying to fence as much as possible – less conditioning and more bouting,” Kubik said.

“We fenced really hard this weekend to get ready and to make sure no Ohio State foilist makes it this weekend,” women’s foilist Rachel Cota said.

In addition to qualifying as one of the top five spots, fencers can make the team as alternates.

“I would like to qualify as an alternate for NCAAs, because I just want to go and see everyone fence,” Serrette said.

Fencers can also make the NCAAs by garnering one of two at-large bids. Adjemian earned one last year and Orlando did the year before that.

Despite the potential for teammate versus teammate matches, Cota says the Irish will rally around what’s best for the squad.

“Actually, the attitude is really nice because everybody understands you have to fence your best … there’s competition of course, but everyone wants what’s best,” Cota said.

Cota, who can’t fence this weekend because of an injury, said she and her teammates are doing whatever they can to improve the spirit – even making ribbons for those competing to wear. Cota was also confident in the team’s ability to qualify in all 12 spots.

“There’s gonna be some pretty [tough] competition,” Cota said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll qualify all the fencers we need, but it’s going to be a fight and we’ll be up to the challenge.”