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Fencing: Irish to host Midwest Conference championships

Mike Monaco | Thursday, March 1, 2012

After a few weeks of small-squad and individual competitions, the Irish get back in action this weekend as they play host to the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships.

The championships will begin Saturday, with individual events going on all day, and continue Sunday when the team bouts will take place.

The competition is important for Notre Dame not only as preparation for the upcoming NCAA championships but also for evaluating the squad against its regional foes, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said.

“[The conference championships] are one of the finals of our season,” Bednarski said. “It’s the first one because then we will have the NCAA championships in two stages — regionals and finals — so it’s very important for us. It’s one of the most important events in our season as far as telling us how we are prepared in relation to our Midwest rivals. It’s a good prognostic for us in the region.”

The event attracts roughly 20 local universities and more than 600 fencers, Bednarski said, and as a result the competition will be fierce. Bednarski said he is expecting strong performances from some of the team’s rivals, such as Ohio State, Wayne State and Northwestern.

In addition to showing the Irish where they stack up against the region’s top squads, the Conference Championships provide individual fencers, especially the underclassmen, with the opportunity to make one last impression on the coaches heading into the NCAA championships.

“[This weekend] will be also a tryout for the younger kids who were showing signs that they can be good athletes and good starters in the future,” Bednarski said. “They will hopefully show us they can compete and they can go can far against experienced rivals. So it’s a very important event from that standpoint.”

Bednarski noted the regular season success of a group of freshmen, including foilist Madison Zeiss and epeeists Ashley Severson, Dale Purdy and Ryan McDonough.

Zeiss led the way for the female foil squad with her 42-5 record, including an impressive 15-1 outing at the Notre Dame Duals on Jan. 28.

Severson compiled a 37-7 mark for the Irish in the regular season and earned a bronze medal at last month’s United States Fencing Associations National Junior Olympics.

Purdy and McDonough both saw action for the men’s epee squad and finished with records of 37-13 and 17-8, respectively.

Bednarski is hoping his young fencers continue their strong performances this weekend.

“We will see how they will compete in this event to show us the skill they have,” Bednarski said. “I hope that they will fence well.”

The Irish also feature a strong group of upperclassmen that are looking to conclude their careers with solid outings, Bednarski said.

“I believe that we have a few seniors who would like to show that in their senior year they did not waste their time and they are showing skill and helping our team to get better,” Bednarski said.

Among those upperclassmen are junior Grant Hodges and seniors Enzo Castellani and Nicholas Crebs. Together, the three foilists took first place in last weekend’s United States Collegiate Squad Championships at NYU. In addition to that trio, fellow senior foilist Reggie Bentley has been consistent throughout the year with a 38-17 record. Bednarski said he expects the group’s success to continue this weekend.

“Our foil upperclassmen don’t have to show skill necessarily,” Bednarski said. “They have to win competitions like they won [at the Squad Championships]. Seniors like Bentley and Castellani are top NCAA champions and I know they will lead the team this weekend.”

Bednarski knows not to expect a repeat of last year’s performance, when the Irish claimed gold medals in all six of the squad events. Nonetheless, the team is still hoping to head into the NCAA championships on a high note, Bednarski said.

“Last year we were so good that we won six gold medals in the squad tournaments,” Bednarski said. “Obviously it will be very hard to repeat but we will still try to get a high position.”

The Irish take to the mats Saturday inside the Joyce Center Fieldhouse for individual competition and return Sunday for the squad events.