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Fencing: First in fencing

Michael Todisco | Monday, March 28, 2011

For some collegiate programs, winning championships ceases to be a goal and becomes an expectation. Notre Dame’s fencing program is one of those programs — by winning their eighth national championship and third under Irish coach Janusz Bednarski Sunday, the Irish fencers fulfilled not a goal, but an expectation.

“We didn’t just talk about winning a championship this year, we expected it,” said senior sabreist Avery Zuck.

The Irish finished with 174 points, besting two-time defending champion Penn State by six points. The championship was Notre Dame’s first since 2005. Freshman foilist Ariel DeSmet and junior epeeist Courtney Hurley won gold medals, which marked the first time the Irish captured both a men’s and women’s gold in the same year. While the Irish have talented rosters year in and year out, DeSmet said this year’s team had a special feel.

“When I came in this year, being a freshman I didn’t realize what we had,” DeSmet said. “As the year continued and I began to see the talent on this team, I knew that we would really have a great shot to win it.”

Zuck saw Notre Dame’s breakthrough as a function of its senior-laden roster.

“This year we were stacked with seniors who have been there before,” he said. “We never panicked or got down on ourselves, but still understood how important every single bout is.”

The tournament, held in Columbus, Ohio, began Thursday when the men took the stripe for the first two days of the competition.

Freshman Ariel DeSmet led the men’s squad with an 18-5 record and a gold medal in the foil competition and earning first team all-American honors.

“Ariel is unbelievable,” Zuck said “He left everything out there. It was so impressive to watch him maintain his composure and perform on that level.”

Junior Reggie Bentley also performed strongly for the Irish in the foil, finishing in fifth place with a 16-7 record.

Senior sabre Avery Zuck just missed earning a gold medal of his own, falling in the championship bout by a single touch, 15-14. Zuck joined DeSmet as an All-American. Senior Barron Nydam, who finished with a 15-8 record, joined the two in the sabre.

Sophomore James Kaull and senior Brent Kelly both turned in solid performances in the men’s epee, finishing in 14th and 16th place respectively.

The women’s team competed over Saturday and Sunday. Hurley led the way with a 19-4 record while capturing her first NCAA individual gold in the epee and all-American honors.

“Courtney is an incredible fencer,” Zuck said. “She has had success all over world, so we have come to expect this of her. She really deserved to win gold this weekend.”

Senior Ewa Nelip also competed in the epee, finishing with a 12-11 record.

With a 17-6 record, senior sabreist Eillen Hassett fenced her way to her first career top-four finish and a place as a first-team all-American. Sophomore Lian Osier also fenced sabre for Notre Dame, finishing in ninth place with a 12-11 record.

In the women’s foil, senior Haley Reese finished in eighth place with a 15-8 record, while freshman Rachel Beck rounded out the Notre Dame lineup with a 6-3 record, including the clinching win over Katherine Chou of Harvard. The freshman’s win — which closed out the championship — gave the Irish seniors the first national championship of their careers.

“Winning is unbelievable,” Zuck said. “After four years of being so close, with the goal just building up inside you, it was amazing to finally reach our goal this weekend.”