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Fencing: Nelip continues to dominate

Ken Fowler | Monday, February 25, 2008

Notre Dame could have been left out of the gold medal ceremonies this weekend, but freshman epeeist Ewa Nelip would have none of that.

Nelip won the individual women’s epee title at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships Saturday at the Joyce Center, and then was the driving force for the women’s epeeists Sunday in the team tournament.

With Notre Dame leading Northwestern 3-1 in the women’s epee final, Nelip battled back from a 2-0 deficit for a crucial 5-4 victory over Wildcat Kayley French. Irish junior Kim Montoya then defeated Northwestern senior Megan Ross to clinch Notre Dame’s only team title of the weekend.

Senior Eleanor Leighton, a Mishawaka native, went 2-0 in Notre Dame’s 5-1 win over the Wildcats.

“We wanted that victory more than any other,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “We were very close in women’s sabre to getting the top. … So at least the [epee] girls compensated.”

That the women’s epee final was the last competition of the weekend for Notre Dame alleviated the pain of an otherwise rough set of team results. Notre Dame’s chief rival, the Buckeyes of Ohio State, captured five team crowns.

“Frankly speaking, we were losing to the teams who were higher ranked and after very good bouts and very close,” Bednarski said. “So, it was optimistic for a very young team.”

Nelip, the freshman, exemplified that. She topped Ohio State’s Kaela Brendler 15-12 in the final bout of the individual bracket.

While Nelip’s success was the continuation of a dominant rookie season, junior Bill Ehrlich was Notre Dame’s biggest surprise in the individual competition. The less-experienced epeeist went 4-2 in pool play before winning three straight bouts in the direct elimination competition. He lost to fellow Irish junior Karol Kostka in the quarterfinals but, in the process, earned second-team all-conference honors – despite not earning a monogram for the year. Kostka finished third.

Still, the Irish finished with good, but not great, results most of the weekend. All-American senior epeeist Greg Howard failed to reach the quarterfinals in the individual competition. A low placing in pool play gave him a poor seed for the direct-elimination bracket, and sensation Jason Pryor, a junior from Ohio State, knocked Howard out of the tournament.

Howard said he simply didn’t fence well Saturday.

Though Bednarski would have liked to seen a better performance, he said he is turning his attention to the NCAA Midwest Regionals, which begin in two weeks in Detroit. In fact, he said he would “gladly trade in” a poor performance this weekend if he could qualify the maximum 12 fencers from the regional to the March 13-16 NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio.

“We have to improve tactical gains because obviously we should be a little bit smarter,” Bednarski said.