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Fencing: New challenges await squad

Luke Mansour | Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Undefeated Notre Dame has enjoyed the same kind of regular-season dominance it has in recent years, but the Irish know the most important challenges still lie ahead.

The Irish (33-0) will face the first of these challenges Saturday when they host the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships at the Purcell Pavilion.

Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said he knows his team has a target on its back as it heads into postseason play on its home turf.

“It is sometimes easier to fence on the road and easier to organize a group when you stay out of the friendly environment,” Bednarski said. “Let’s hope that our athletes will be able to effectively run this emotional rollercoaster during the conference championships.”

The Irish finished the regular season with the top-ranked men’s and women’s teams. Both sported an undefeated record, the first time this has occurred since 1991.

Although the Irish have passed every test so far, they are aware their work is not done, and a season that has been so satisfying could very easily turn sour with a couple of bad performances.

“[The] postseason is coming and we are now a different type of events,” Bednarski said. “The regionals and final of the NCAA have different rules and different emotional pressure. I am sure that these events will decide how much we appreciate our regular season results.”

A pair of Olympians — sophomore Gerek Meinhardt and senior Kelley Hurley — has led the Irish all season.

Meinhardt was a first team All-American as a freshman and finished second in the NCAAs last year. Hurley was the 2008 women’s epee national champion. But Bednarski said the team’s depth is a strength that will hopefully lead the Irish to a NCAA team title.

“Beyond [Meinhardt and Hurley] we have a big group of individuals who can win anytime and against anybody,” Bednarski said. “They are prepared physically and mentally and they are one unit, one team that wants to win.”

As they head into the conference championships, the already decorated team has grander aspirations and expects that it can do great things.

“In the sport of fencing, it is not the season but Conference rings and NCAA medals that give bigger satisfaction and last longer in a memory of athletes,” Bednarski said.