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Irish set to take on defending champs

Chris Masoud | Friday, November 20, 2009

Regardless of where the Irish compete, fencing on the intercollegiate stage always brings out the best in the talented players. But when the Irish travel to State College, Pa. for the Penn State Open, a growing rivalry between the two programs should fuel the desire to win even further.

Notre Dame and Penn State have combined to win five of the last eight NCAA Fencing Championships. The Nittany Lions have won 11 titles since the tournament began in 1990, their most recent coming last year over the second-place Irish.

“It’s usually one of the strongest tournaments in the country, probably the strongest one,” Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. “It’s a team who fenced for first place last year, and we lost, and they remember that we will be trying still to play with them here. So we are going to the lion’s cave, and we will see how we will fence.”

Anchored by sophomores Courtney Hurley and Gerek Meinhardt, the Irish hope to have a strong showing among a field of some of the nation’s elite. Bednarski says he will be taking a mixture of both veterans and first-year fencers as he tries to gauge their level of readiness for team competition, which begins in January.

“We are taking a lot of kids with us to get them experience from a big competition,” Bednarski said. “These young kids need such experience to know how to travel during the day with emotions, with stress, because we are going to territory that will not be very friendly for us. So we have a lot of things to observe.”

Bednarski and the coaching staff will be paying particular attention to one the squad’s rising stars, freshman Lian Osler, who recently earned a gold medal in the sabre at the USFA North American Cup. Osler and others will have their work cut out for them as they aim to raise their individual junior rankings.

“In Penn State it will be harder for her because she will meet top Penn State competition, who is pretty strong too,” Bednarski said. “The kids are very, very emotionally taken by this trip because they know that they are going to the best team in the nation. With so many good fencers, they want to show their strengths also.”

Facing their first true test of the preseason, the Irish look to send a message against the reigning national champions when they hit the strip this Saturday and Sunday.