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



Fencing: Irish travel to Jersey for NCAAs

Ken Fowler | Thursday, March 22, 2007

Notre Dame may not be the favorite, but the Irish plan on rattling some sabres starting today as the four-day NCAA Fencing Championships kicks off at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

Columbia, Penn State and St. John’s are the presumptive favorites, each qualifying the maximum 12 fencers for the event. But Ohio State and Notre Dame, two perennial powers who failed to qualify a full squad, have shown an ability to overcome a numbers disadvantage in the past.

Last season the Buckeyes qualified just nine fencers yet finished third with 155 points – only 10 behind champion Harvard. For the Irish, Notre Dame’s 2005 championship marked the only time a squad ever captured the title without a full allotment of fencers.

“I think we have a shot,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said of his team’s chances this weekend.

And he has empirical evidence on his side.

Like they did two seasons ago en route to a national championship, the Irish qualified 11 fencers for this year’s NCAA Championships.

But the similarities don’t stop there.

In 2005, Notre Dame captured two titles at the NCAA Midwest Regional. Former Irish standout Alicja Kryczalo won the women’s foil competition and then-sophomore Patrick Ghattas collected the men’s sabre crown. Two weeks ago, two new Notre Dame fencers – freshman epeeist Kelley Hurley and sophomore foilist Adi Nott -captured titles in the regional competition at the Joyce Center.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of different competitors,” Nott said, comparing her expectations of this weekend’s event to the Midwest Regional. “I want to fence better than I have [this year].”

Ghattas, now a senior and three-time All-American, will compete at the NCAAs after a third-place finish in the Regional March 10. Ghattas has finished second at Nationals two years in a row.

The competition begins today with round-robin competition on the men’s side. Further men’s rounds and direct elimination follow on Friday. The women start fencing on Saturday before finishing Sunday, when the NCAA awards one national championship for a team’s combined men’s and women’s performances. Notre Dame finished fourth in 2006.

Irish senior Valerie Providenza will look to become the first Notre Dame women’s sabreist ever to earn All-American status four straight seasons. She won the individual crown as a freshman before finishing fourth in 2005 and ninth in 2006.

Providenza will be joined in her weapon by sophomore Ashley Serrette, who is making a homecoming of sorts. The sophomore native of Orange, N.J., earned a bid in the NCAAs with a sixth-place finish at the regional competition. (Ohio State had three fencers in the top five, but NCAA rules limit teams to two entries in each weapon per gender.)

This weekend’s competition will be the first NCAA Championship action for five of Notre Dame’s 11 fencers. Serrette, Hurley, junior epeeist Greg Howard, sophomore foilist Emilie Prot and sophomore sabreist Bill Thanhouser will be making their championship debuts.

Hurley, who has dropped only four bouts all season, represents Notre Dame’s best chance at a victory from the first-timers.

Among the returning competitors, Nott finished sixth in the NCAAs as a freshman, while junior foilist Jakub Jedrkowiak placed seventh in 2005 and eighth in 2006. Last season, sophomore epeeist Karol Kostka and sophomore foilist Mark Kubik finished 18th and 21st, respectively.