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Fencing: ND coach: ‘It’s a great day’

Michael Todisco | Tuesday, March 29, 2011

After four frenzied days of competition at the NCAA championships, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski could finally reflect on his team’s season, which ended in a national title.

“For our program, it’s a great day,” he said. “It’s not only a great day, it’s a great year.”

The season started with great promise, as the Irish fencers brought back strong results from international tournaments throughout the world.

Junior foilist Gerek Meinhart captured headlines when he took bronze at the World Fencing championships, becoming the first American to ever win a medal in the event.

“It [was] a huge accomplishment, like winning the Super Bowl,” Irish foil coach Gia Kvaratskhelia said at the time.

However, on the same day the Irish earned the No. 1 national ranking, Bednarski was informed that, due to injury, the team would be without Meinhart for the rest of the season, endangering Notre Dame’s title hopes.

As the season progressed, the team persevered without its all-world foilist, continuing to post strong results in matches against top competition.

“I started to be not fully, but a bit optimistic, that the absence of Gerek Meinhart would not hurt us as much as expected,” Bednarski said.

Without Meinhart, the talented Irish foil team showed its depth and resolve. At the NCAA championships, freshman Ariel DeSmet defied the odds and captured the gold medal in the weapon, matching Meinhart’s performance from 2010.

“Our foil team is absolutely unbelievable,” said senior sabreist Avery Zuck. “Take Ariel [DeSmet] — here is a kid that is a freshman, and came out and performed just as well as Gerek did. He completely eliminated that loss, which is incredible because we are talking about a kid who literally has a chance to win a medal at the Olympics this year… It was definitely a big hit when we heard that he was out, but there was not a better place to take that hit than on our foil team.”

Despite DeSmet’s gold medal in the men’s foil and another gold tacked on by junior Courtney Hurley in the women’s epee, Bednarski stressed that Notre Dame’s path to the championship had its ups and downs.