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Fencing: No. 1 ranking on the line in Northwestern Dual meet

Chris Masoud | Friday, January 30, 2009

Standing alone atop the mountain of fencing rankings is no easy task in the NCAA, but the Irish have the opportunity to do just that as they compete in the Northwestern Duals in Evanston, Illinois this weekend.

The men’s fencing team currently shares a first-place ranking with Penn State, while the second-ranked women trail the Nittany Lions in the USFCA Coaches Poll.

“It will be the first encounter with them before we go for a national championship,” Irish fencing coach Janusz Bednarski said. “It will be interesting to see how strong we can compete against them. We will see.”

The Irish are coming off a hugely successful weekend at the St. John’s University Duals and the New York University Invitational, where the fencers competed without the help of Olympian Gerek Meinhardt. The combination of a talented cast of freshmen and sophomores and an experienced senior line helped the women’s team emerge with a record of 5-2 and the men’s squad a perfect 7-0.

According to Bednarski, luck played no part in the young teams’ successes early in the season.

“I think that there are several reasons for the success,” Bednarski said. “We work very hard during the fall, and there was a lot of enthusiasm from the new student-athletes. The creation of this atmosphere helped a lot because they were giving much more.”

Although the Irish find themselves pitted against Penn State for the title of undisputed No. 1, Notre Dame will also have to contend with some of the best teams in the country. Temple, Cleveland State, Johns Hopkins, North Carolina, Wayne State, and a bitter Ohio State are expected to be in attendance. The men’s team beat the Buckeyes last weekend, while the Irish women fell in a hard-fought battle.

“We will fence Ohio State once again because of NCAA competition, so they will try to get revenge,” Bednarski said.

But a victory over Penn State this weekend is no guarantee for the Irish to win a national championship. Because of newly instated NCAA regulations, the championships will limit the roster size from years past.

“We are a little bit more talented and we have a bigger bench than Penn State,” Bednarski said. “But it will play for them because their first two fencers are from the national team and are very good.”

Nevertheless, Bednarski believes the talented fighters have a great opportunity to make a statement this weekend if they can keep their focus.

“I think it will come down to the last minute, the last throw, the last bout.”