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Fencing: Squad finishes second to Penn St. in NCAAs

Chris Masoud | Monday, March 23, 2009

Rarely does a team that finishes first overall in the regular season feel as though it has something to prove, but the Irish fencing team left the strip on Sunday wanting to prove a little bit more.

The Irish fencers finished second overall at the 2009 NCAA Fencing Championship in State College, Penn., finishing with 182 wins over the weekend. The Nittany Lions, favored early in the season to win it all, captured their 11th championship in the last twenty years with 195 wins. Rival Ohio State finished in third with 166 wins.

“We just mobilized all the energy, everything to fight,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “We had a very good season and in general, many teams wanted to be second. We are not happy anyway because we have a bigger appetite, but we have to wait until next year.”

Despite falling short of their ultimate goal, the Irish turned in impressive performances each day of the competition on both the men’s and women’s sides. By the end of the championship, the squad featured 10 All-Americans and two silver medalists.

In women’s foil sophomore Hayley Reese advanced to the semifinals where she upset top-seeded Oksana Dmytruk of Ohio State, 13-11, to advance to the gold medal bout. Reese had to settle for silver, though, after falling to Penn State’s Doris Willette 15-5.

Freshman Courtney Hurley and sophomore Ewa Nelip helped narrow the gap with Penn State on Sunday by posting an impressive sweep of the Nittany Lions in the women’s epee pool. Hurley and Nelip took down Penn State’s Nina Westman and Anastasia Ferdman to finish play tied for third.

“They were one step closer to the gold medals,” Bednarski said. “Making observations from the outside, they fenced really very well. They were driving the team forward and that’s when the chase started, but they were too far to catch them.”

Bednarski said that the Irish showed tremendous poise for a team carried by youngsters with raw talent and emotions, and that Penn State’s superior experience, and the advantage of playing on their home strip, were the only factors keeping his fighters a title.

“The [Nittany Lions] feel a little bit more comfortable in their own territory,” Bednarski said. “They had the public behind them, helping to give them extra adrenaline, extra energy. I will not say that if we repeat the competition, they will be winners. Maybe we can win, even Ohio State. But at this moment they were better and simply won more gold medals. It was a great team and a great competition, and we showed our potential.”

The Irish fencers may have fallen just short in 2009, but the team promises to bring more experience and even more focus to the strip next season. Olympian and silver medalist Gerek Meinhardt and first team All-American Courtney Hurley still have three years of fighting ahead of them, while the rest of the young nucleus can only get better.

“Each year is different because we don’t know who will come to support them next year,” Bednarski said. “We know that we have a core team that is very strong and very young. I’m angry that we lost this chance. They are angry. So let’s hope that we can turn this anger into work and skill next year when we will probably compete against Penn State who will try to defend their position.”