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Fencing: Irish athletes head to Paris for Worlds

Michael Todisco | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Before the season even begins for Irish, many members of the team are off reminding the world of Notre Dame’s dominance in the sport of fencing. Both former and current Irish fencers are competing in the International Fencing Federation’s (FIE) World Championships, hosted in Paris, France.

Current team members, sophomore Courtney Hurley and junior Ewa Nelip, competed in the women’s epee individual championships which finished Monday. The pair was also joined by Courtney’s older sister and former Irish fencer, Kelly Hurley.

Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said he views the results of the competition as indicative of the friendly sisterly rivalry between Kelly and Courtney, where big sister reigned supreme.

“I saw Courtney in practices starting as a child, always chasing her sister who was just a bit better and older,” Bednarski said.

In this competition, Kelly again bested her little sister, although both siblings had impressive finishes. Kelly Hurley finished in 15th place out of 136 participants, while Courtney finished in 61st place. Ewa Nelip finished in 29th place.

Courtney also earned additional honors during the tournament. The FIE named Courtney the winner of the World Cup Trophy, honoring the world’s best junior epeeist for the 2009-10 season. This award was a culmination of a year’s worth of dominance for Hurley. Bednarski believes his sophomore epeeist showed that she is one of the most talented young fencers in the world.

“By winning the World Cup Series, she proved that she is the best fencer in her category in her age group in the world without any doubt,” he said.

Bednarski stressed that the experience gained by the team members at the World Championships will be pivotal for the competitors for this season.

“It is a tremendous experience because you are able to see all the tricks used by the top fencers and coaches from all around the globe,” he said. “To fence on the highest level you have to prepare yourself against specific styles, and you have to take time to learn these styles. The only way to learn this is by doing.”

He said this experience would not only help the individuals who went to the event, but would help the team improve as a whole.

“By exchanging this information among fencers who did not go to the competition and experience the nuances of fencing at a top level, these strategies can be passed here during our practices,” Bednarski said.

Bednarski explained that along with the other fencers on the team who did not qualify for the event, the coaching staff will be eager to learn from the girls who represented the Irish in Paris.

“It will be important for coaches to ask the girls what other coaches and fencers are doing,” he said. “I always ask what happened in their event, and look for the new strategies in fencing that we can follow.”

Many other Irish fencers also competed in the tournament. Beatriz Almeida, a current sophomore, represented Brazil, and Mariel Zagunis, former Irish fencer and two time gold medalist, represented the United States in the saber team competition. Notre Dame graduate Orzen Debic also represented Croatia at the tournament in the foil team event.

The multitude of Irish fencers displayed the strength of the Notre Dame program on a national and global level.

Bednarski believes that his team’s current success fits right in line with the strong fencing tradition built at Notre Dame.

“This program was established a long time ago and many great coaches trained here, built tradition and built a standard of excellence that you want to live up to,” he said. “We feel this pressure from alumni and older fencers. It always gives us motivation to achieve and get better.”