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Fencing: Highly-touted underclassmen lead Irish towards title

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, November 10, 2009

After yet another impressive performance by the Irish at the USFA NAC Juniors last weekend, the talented cast of underclassmen is once again emerging as the backbone of a promising young team. Led by sophomores Courtney Hurley and Gerek Meinhardt, the team features some of the nation’s elite fencers in the junior category.

“Each year is different because we don’t know who will come to support them next year,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “We know that we have a core team that is very strong and very young.”

Hurley and Meinhardt are quickly emerging as two of the best individual fighters in their respective weapons in all of collegiate fencing. Heading into play last weekend, Hurley was the third-ranked junior women’s epeeist in the world, while Meinhardt was the first-ranked men’s foilist in the country.

However, the Irish will need to rely on more than just sheer talent to compete with the top fencing programs in the country, namely defending champion Penn State and two-time national champion Ohio State. Experience will likely play a deciding factor in tournament play.

“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.”

Although this year’s squad features 14 freshmen, five on the men’s side and nine on the women’s, Bednarski is confident in his team’s ability to compete at a high level.

“They are adjusting very quickly to the different type of competition, the different type of bouts because definitely it’s a different system,” Bednarski said.

As the individual fencing season wraps up in the fall, the Irish prepare for the long journey to their third NCAA Championship in seven years.

 “They are positioning themselves well for the national team, but we are ready to compete now with the best collegiate teams in the nation,” Bednarski said. “We are probably not the number one team, but we will challenge anyone who tries to fence against us. What the end result will be I don’t know. I can’t promise. But I know only that our kids are ready to fence.”