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Bednarski is confident that young squad is full of potential

Chris Masoud | Thursday, December 11, 2008

Led by sixth-year head coach Janusz Bednarski, members of the Irish fencing team are sharpening their blades as they eagerly await the start of intercollegiate play. Following a season that saw the Irish achieve second place at the NCAA Fencing Championships, the fighters have high hopes for the 2009 season.

“We have a very strong team,” Bednarski said. “Maybe not the strongest in the nation, but we can fight anybody.”

Bednarski is the only coach in Notre Dame’s history to win a national title in his first season and win multiple national titles in fewer than five seasons.

Although laden with talent, the team features 14 freshmen and will miss the support of a very strong senior cast from 2008. Bednarski believes the experience of Olympians Gerek Meinhardt and Kelley Hurley will play an important role in the team’s success.

“Experience in the Olympic games shows two things,” Bednarski said. “First, it shows that you are a good defender who can play at the highest level of professional fencing. Second, it shows that you can fight on the big stage in front of all the cameras. This will bring calm to a young team that can easily get nervous.”

Meinhardt, a freshman foiler and the youngest male U.S. Olympian in Beijing, agrees with his coach.

“Beijing will help in getting used to pressure situations,” Meinhardt said. “It’s the highest level of competition, so I’ll better be able to deal with nerves that come with playing in the NCAA.”

Meinhardt also understands that an Olympic background comes with a price tag.

“I have to focus hard against every competitor,” Meinhardt said. “Because I’m at the top, people want to bring me down.”

Fellow Olympian Kelley Hurley and her sister Courtney lead the women’s epee division, while Ashley Serrette anchors the women’s saber.

After posting very successful individual accomplishments in the fall, the Irish face their first test as a team January 24 and 25 when they compete at St. John’s and New York University. Columbia, Northwestern, and reigning national champion Ohio State will all be at the invitational as well.

“It’s very hard for coaches to predict,” Bednarski said. “I’ve been in this business for so long. There are so many factors we can’t control, especially on such a young team. But anything can happen if we make it to the Bloody Four.”