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Fencing: Irish win despite ill coach

Joe Meixell | Tuesday, December 5, 2006

In the depths of the Joyce Center, national champions wait for the opportunity to prove themselves again.

Notre Dame went months without a definitive set of events, but this year scheduling is the last of its concerns. Earlier this semester, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski had an emergency appendectomy that limited his work at a time when Notre Dame was in transition. His old assistant coach, Zoltan Dudas, took the head job at Princeton after four seasons at Bednarski’s side.

Notre Dame was unable to submit a proposed schedule to the faculty board for athletics for months. And Notre Dame still hasn’t posted an official schedule.

Notre Dame eventually hired Gia Kvaratskhelia, but not until events were fast approaching.

And in the midst of it all, the Irish stayed at the top of the fencing landscape.

At the Penn State Open, the premier national preseason individual duals held the first week of November, Notre Dame captured second-place finishes in all three women’s divisions, and five men finished in the top-10 of their events.

Senior sabreist Valerie Providenza, who entered as the No. 2 seed, went 15-0 in three rounds of double-elimination competition and topped standout Penn State senior Sophie Hiss along the way to the final. There, Providenza fell to Ohio State junior Siobhan Byrne 15-10.

Providenza, a senior from Beaverton, Ore., captured the 2004 NCAA Sabre Championship with a win over Hiss in the final and won the Junior Olympics title in that discipline the same year.

“Finishing second was nice, although if I had been on top of my game I should have won,” Providenza said. “I lost to my friend … but it was still disappointing to know I could have won, but didn’t.”

Competing with a strained muscle, Providenza said she was happy with her performance.

“I wouldn’t have been happy unless I made it into the top two, and after I did that, I just fenced as well as I could at that time,” she said. “The day drags on and you get tired, so all you can do is try to focus and fence the bout at that minute.”

But Providenza wasn’t the only Irish woman in the finals. Epeeist Kelley Hurley and foilist Adi Nott, both freshman, made it to their finals. Hurley entered as the No. 1 seed and went 14-0 in double elimination bouts. Hurley beat Wayne State senior Justyna Konczalska, who captured fourth place in the 2006 NCAA Championships. Two-time NCAA Champion Anna Garina, Konczalska’s teammate, defeated Hurley in the final bout, 15-13.

Nott was the unlikely star of the Open for Notre Dame. Seeded 11th entering the tournament, the freshman went 12-1 in her double-elimination bouts to surge to the No. 4 seed for the final four rounds. Nott then reached the final, where she lost to 2005 NCAA champion Emily Cross, a junior from Harvard.

On the men’s side, Irish senior epeeist Aaron Adjemian went from the 15th seed entering the tournament to a third-place finish. Adjemian lost his semifinal bout 15-13 to Wayne State senior Marek Petraszek, who was the 2005 NCAA runner-up and turns 25 years old in January. Adjemian beat Penn State junior 15-13 in the consolation bout to finish in the top-3.

Notre Dame sophomore foilist Mark Kubik entered as the No. 4 seed and finished the tournament in that spot. Kubik was 12-2 in pool bouts and beat the No. 2 seed, Harvard sophomore Kai Itameri-Kinter, 15-10 in the quarterfinals.

Irish senior sabreist Patrick Ghattas and junior foilist Jakub Jedrkowiak each took seventh in his discipline. Irish senior Matt Stearns finished eighth in the sabre.

“We were all really tired that day but did our best,” Providenza said. “The day drags on and you get tired, so all you can do is try to focus and fence the bout at that minute.”

While Notre Dame’s Gold Medal sabreist, junior Mariel Zagunis, didn’t participate in the Penn State Open, she made her mark a month earlier at the World Championships.

Zagunis lost 15-11 to 16-year-old training partner Becca Ward in the sabre championship in Toronto in an all-American final that broke a slew of historical records.

Before that event, only one other American had ever won a medal in the World Championships.

But the meeting was nothing new for either Zagunis or Ward, who train together at the Oregon Fencing Alliance in Portland, Ore.

Zagunis beat American Sada Jacobson 15-10 in the semifinals before taking on Ward in the championship bout.

And all of that was without Bednarski, who guided the Irish to national titles in 2001 – his first year – and 2003. But with Bednarski back at practices – along with Kvaratskhelia – for Notre Dame, the Irish are looking forward to whatever lies ahead.

“It was very strange not to have Janusz at practice, but our new coach Gia really stepped up and took over,” Providenza said. “Practice definitely felt different for me when Janusz wasn’t there. We were all very happy to have him return.

“We’re just taking it one practice at a time, preparing for whichever tournament comes next.”