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Coach inks four recruits to replace seniors

Ken Fowler | Thursday, January 18, 2007

Notre Dame head coach Janusz Bednarski knows the cost of success for the Irish is steep. He also knows how to minimize that cost.

As Notre Dame loses its four top sabres next season to graduation and national teams in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, Bednarski signed four coveted fencers in the discipline to national letters of intent.

Three of the newcomers – Avery Zuck, Sarah Borrmann and Eileen Hassett – are from the same area in Oregon as senior sabres Valerie Providenza and Patrick Ghattas and junior sabre Mariel Zagunis. Providenza and Ghattas will graduate this spring – along with All-American Matt Stearns – and Zagunis will leave the team next season as she trains to defend her Olympic gold medal.

Both Borrmann and Hassett are in the USFA’s current women’s sabre top-12, with Hassett owning eighth in the rankings and Borrmann at No. 12.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be going to Notre Dame,” Hassett said in a statement issued by the Notre Dame athletics department on und.com. “I was extremely impressed with the campus and the students during my visit last September. … I’m really looking forward to fencing under coach Bednarski and being part of a great collegiate fencing squad.”

On the men’s side, Zuck is No. 11 on the American under-20 list.

The fourth signee was Barron Nydam of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., who enters Notre Dame ranked No. 35 in the senior USFA standings.

For Bednarski, pulling in a strong class was important. He said recruiting in the United States – where fencing is not as popular as it is in Europe – is difficult, especially with tight NCAA limitations on scholarships. Each school has just 4.5 scholarships for men and five for women, numbers Bednarski said he and other coaches around the country would like to see increase.

“We need to produce more of our own fencers to the high levels,” he said. “It’s not easy to bring them here through recruiting. We need simply to be able to produce more walk-ons, but we need the coaches to be able to do that.”

While Notre Dame may have filled the talent gap with the approaching departures of its signature seniors and Olympic champion, another void remains. The Irish have only two coaches – Bednarski and assistant Gia Kvaratskhelia – even though the NCAA limit is four. Notre Dame was already understaffed when former Irish assistant Zoltan Dudas accepted the head coaching position at Princeton this summer. Bednarski hired Kvaratskhelia this fall to teach foil, but holes remain.

The biggest problems with the current coaching situation, Bednarski said, are the lack of one coach per weapon and the limitations placed on individual instruction.

“We need coaches,” he said. “It’s hard to bring them from Europe. It’s hard to find them in this country.”

Bednarski said the athletic department supports the search for a third paid coach on the staff, though meeting the NCAA limit of four may take time.

Still, he said, with the new recruits and current fencers, he believes Notre Dame remains atop the nation for fencing programs.