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Women’s Fencing: Providenza continues to put teammates first

Ken Fowler | Thursday, February 15, 2007

The only results Valerie Providenza says she keeps stored in her mind are three NCAA Championship appearances. If that’s the case, the senior has forgotten more wins than any Irish women’s sabre in history.This weekend, she went 12-0 in the Duke Duals to break former teammate Destanie Milo’s record of 166 regular-season victories.While the mid-season bouts get lost in the shuffle, Providenza’s memories start sweetly.In 2004 she finished fifth in the Midwest Fencing Conference Regional but mounted a stunning comeback in the national semifinal and topped Penn State’s Sophia Hiss for the NCAA crown.”Freshman year, I came in wanting to prove I should be here,” she said.As soon as Providenza got to Notre Dame, she knew she would put the team ahead of her individual career. She often chose NCAA events over the individual tournaments needed to gain points on the national rankings.”I consider the team my second family,” she said. “Coming in, I knew I was going to be here for only four years – and it was something I wanted to make the most of.”That sentiment was not lost on Irish coach Janusz Bednarski.”The number of bouts she has competed in shows her engagement and devotion to the program,” he said.Bednarski said Providenza’s commitment to the team whenever individual tournaments conflicted with NCAA events, combined with her skill, propelled her toward the record.Providenza entered Notre Dame with high expectations and started for the sabres as a freshman. Bednarski said he was comfortable putting the responsibility on her shoulders.Ever since, she’s helped lead the Irish. Providenza finished fourth in the nation as a sophomore and ninth in 2006. Providenza entered the season with an .822 winning percentage, including a 39-6 mark en route to the 2004 women’s sabre crown and a remarkable 47-9 record as a sophomore.While her win totals are high, Providenza, who’s born every burden for the Irish, takes competitions just one at a time. She said she even gets nervous if she thinks about the NCAAs too far in advance. For someone who has finished in the top-10 nationally three straight years, that mindset might seem strange. But for Providenza, it’s a modus operandi.”You take every season as it comes,” she said in a cool, explanatory tone. “If I’m not concentrated on the tournament at hand, I don’t perform as well.”The strategy also keeps the second-semester senior from becoming overwhelmed with schoolwork, impending graduation and a start in the post-college world.Ranked No. 11 in the nation, Providenza would have an outside shot to make the American Olympic team for the 2008 Beijing Games. But to qualify, she would need to participate in tournaments worldwide beginning now – a prospect that lead Irish junior sabre Mariel Zagunis to withdraw from school to start an Olympic title defense. Already exhausted after tournaments from Columbus to London every weekend for the past three months, Providenza decided to focus on her team tournaments. The travel to NCAA competitions strain her body far less than the constant jet-setting of the international circuit, something Providenza is keenly aware of as she battles occasional knee and ankle problems. “It’s really taxing,” she said. “You see the hotel, fence for one or two days and then fly back.”So instead of jumping into the Olympic path, Providenza has other plans.”I’m graduating this semester and I’m working next summer – and hopefully going to graduate school,” she said.But she wants to leave with one more good memory, and it can’t come from any regular-season record. Providenza thinks the Irish could have won the NCAA crown last year when they finished fourth, behind Harvard, Penn State and Ohio State.With a top finish this year at the NCAA Championships, Providenza would become the first Irish women’s sabre ever to earn All-American honors four times. But she says she wouldn’t be completely satisfied with anything less than a team win and an individual title.That makes sense for someone whose only memories come from the biggest tournament of the year.