Jan. 22, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2011 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish fencing teams, which are perennial contenders for the NCAA national championship, and bring back a loaded roster as they search for the program's eighth NCAA title and first since 2005.
A year after finishing third place at the 2010 NCAA Championships in Boston, the Fighting Irish have returned a now-veteran roster in search of the program's eighth national championship and third under the direction of head coach Janusz Bednarski.
Notre Dame should be a dangerous opponent for any foe this season and a real threat for the 2011 national championship. The 2010-11 Irish squad will add a talented batch of newcomers to an already deep and experienced roster. Furthermore, the Notre Dame staff will look a bit different with the addition of assistant coach and sabre specialist, Ian Farr, to the already talented coaching corps in place led by Bednarski, who already has two national titles to his name. Notre Dame's returning roster for the 2011 title drive includes 13 All-Americans, who have combined for a total of 25 All-America citations and two individual NCAA Championships, including most recently Gerek Meinhardt's foil gold at the 2010 Championships.
To get their feet wet for the upcoming run at the 2011 title, the Irish squad focused on developing their individual talents at a host of individual sessions during the fall season. Several members of the Irish team had top finishes at both national as well as international events, giving Bednarski the much-needed depth that his team will have on display throughout the spring schedule.
Junior Courtney Hurley continued to build off her successful year in 2009-10, earning the World Cup Trophy on the junior circuit from the International Fencing Association for earning the most points over the course of the '09-10 docket. She ended the year 22 points ahead of Swedish fencer Johanna Bergdahl, which was aided by winning five World Cup events on the year. Most recently, she also competed at the World Championships on the senior level and placed 61st (out of 136).
Returning to the Irish roster in '10-11 will be Ewa Nelip, who missed all of last season while competing with the Polish National Team. She, much like Hurley, enjoyed a strong showing at the World Championships, placing 29th in the epee.
Despite having so many experienced fencers returning this season for the Irish, Bednarski continues to bring in top caliber recruits and that was no different this year. Several top fencers in their respective weapons will begin their career with the Irish this season and will enter with good experiences behind them after fall competition. Each of the nine freshmen brought in will challenge for time on the strip in their first year. On the men's side, a large class of seven fencers - Alexander Coccia, Ariel DeSmet, Kevin Hassett, Carl Ianiro, Nicholas Kubik, Ryan Murphy, Michael Rossi - will look to establish themselves in their respective weapons rotation, while a much smaller but equally talented women's class featuring two extremely talented foilists - Rachel Beck and Adriana Camacho - will push the veterans each day in practice battling for a spot.
With a successful fall season behind them, the Irish now turn their attention to making a run at their third NCAA title in the last 10 years.
Much the norm for the Irish, a difficult regular season will prepare them for what will await in NCAA Championships competition. This will instill the seeding and skill to hopefully qualify the maximum amount of fencers come time for the NCAA Midwest Regionals, which will be hosted by Wayne State University (March 12-13). The hope being that the maximum four fencers will qualify for each weapon to give the team a realistic chance to qualify two fencers in each weapon for NCAA Championships play.
Seeding at the NCAA Midwest Regionals is directly based off of individual records from the team events during the regular season, so many challenging bouts will take place over the course of the ledger in hopes of placing Irish fencers in the best position when the time comes.
The attitude Bednarski and his staff carry concerning winning every bout certainly carries over to the team. Last season, for the first time since 1994, both the men's and women's squads finished with undefeated records as the women put together a 35-0 slate while the men finished 33-0. It also marked the first time that both teams finished the year undefeated with 30+ wins apiece. For the men, it marked their 21st undefeated regular season while for the women it marked the seventh perfect season.
The 2011 season gets underway once again with the team lifting the lid at the New York University Duals in New York City followed by the St. John's Duals in Queens, N.Y., this Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Notre Dame then returns home for the Notre Dame Duals on January 29-30 before departing for the Northwestern Duals on February 5-6 in Evanston, Ill. The Irish then stay on the road returning to the Duke Duals, after not participating in the event last season, on February 12-13 with the women set to compete on the opening day and the men on day two.
Postseason play then awaits the Irish as the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships, hosted by Notre Dame, get underway on March 5-6. Last season, both the men's and women's squad took home first place for the first time since the '02 season. Following the Midwest Fencing Championships, NCAA competition gets into full swing with the NCAA Regionals before the NCAA Finals take center stage in Columbus, Ohio, with Ohio State playing host (March 23-27).
"We had pretty good results from our top fencers during the fall and I think that will carry over and continue to grow heading through the spring," Bednarski analyzed. "Our top fencers showed very strong progress. Everyone we went up against was very strong. We took our top fencers to prepare them for the upcoming season and when we have the opportunity to take our backup fencers to a competition, we will find out more about them, but I have no doubt they will compete at the highest level and fight for wins whenever they get the chance. At this moment, we look good. I think we will be very good because by the time the NCAA final comes around we will have some of the top prepared fencers in the nation."
Developing freshmen has been a central tenet of the current Irish coaching staff and has helped create the depth necessary to challenge for the NCAA Championship year in and year out. Over the past three seasons, Bednarski's All-American honorees have included 11 freshmen, headlined by 2008 NCAA women's sabre champion Sarah Borrmann.
As the 2011 season gets underway, here's a look at the Irish by weapon:
The women's epee team features a pair of NCAA-decorated fencers in Hurley and Nelip. Both enter the season with two previous trips to the NCAA Championships to their name and either could challenge for the individual title this season.
Nelip looks to provide the perfect compliment to Hurley this season after returning from her season abroad in competition with the Polish National Team. Prior to her year-long hiatus, Nelip showed all within the program the talent she bring to the strip, posting an 82-8 overall record including two third-place NCAA finishes and a pair of first-team All-American nods as well.
With the dynamic one-two punch of Hurley and Nelip, the Irish also have a viable back end of the rotation to make them one of, if not the most, potent units in the nation. Diane Zielinski enters her third season striving to push her way into the NCAAs for the first time in her sparkling career. Through her first two campaigns she has constructed an overall record of 105-31, including 59-27 this past season.
Sophomore Caroline Dikibo also will be looked to more this season after showing great development in the off-season. She represents a fairly new fact to the rotation after fencing sparingly last year en route to three wins.
The women's foil squad represents one of five Irish weapons that see both of its NCAA participants return from last season. With the return of the two savvy veterans along with an infusion of two talented newcomers the women's foil team finds itself in elite standing heading into the '10-11 season.
Hayley Reese returns for her senior season with a dynamic record of 162-31, including a mark of 42-13 last year. With three-straight NCAA appearances and All-America honors to her name, Reese anchors this relatively young foil unit. Aiding Reese at the top of the lineup is talented junior Darsie Malynn. After recording a 31-13 record last season, she parlayed that into her first-ever NCAA appearance, which will give her added incentive to get back to the national championship this year.
The Irish then turn to several familiar faces as well as a pair of newcomers to bolster the remainder of the rotation. Returnees Grace Hartman, Katie Heinzen, Christina LaBarge, Phenix Messersmith and Radmila Sarkisova all posted lopsided winning records last year, with each at least posting 18 more wins than losses on the campaign. Couple that group with the freshman duo of Rachel Beck and Adriana Camacho and the Irish have plenty of options at their disposal in foil competition.
With two already stellar weapon groups on the women's side it's hard to imagine that the sabre group could potentially be the most talented and deepest group of the three, but that is exactly the case heading into the season.
Borrmann, along with men's foilist Gerek Meinhardt, lay claim to having won individual gold at the NCAA Championships after topping the podium her freshman year, but more than that, has put together an impressive record throughout her career of 156-26 and appeared at the NCAAs yet again last season. With a focus on a strategic use of distance on the strip for the Irish she is a challenge to defeat every time she enters a bout with an opponent.
Hassett also is no stranger to being placed among the elite, appearing at the NCAAs each of her first three seasons. Along with the three NCAA nods, Hassett also has been named a second team All-American each year as well. She enters this campaign with an overall record of 143-60 and her tremendous work ethic reverberates throughout the rest of the team, pushing them to become better everyday.
Despite the talent within the top two for the women's sabre, there is hardly any drop off in rounding out the Irish rotation.
Beatriz Almeida, Abigail Nichols and Lian Osier each provide a unique skill set that makes them a viable threat on the strip and all will look to throw their name in the hat to earn a berth to the 2011 NCAA Championships.
The men's epee team will hope to capitalize on a great finish to last season as they placed two members, James Kaull and Greg Schoolcraft, on the All-American squad with strong 10th and 12th place finishes at the 2010 NCAA Championships, respectively.
At the start of the 2010-11 season, the Irish will be stocked with talent from top to bottom in their epee roster. Leading the charge will be third-team All-Americans, Kaull and Schoolcraft, to go along with a host of other epeeists.
Seroff is one of the most experienced fencers not just in the weapon, but on the team as well. Having competed in over 110 matches throughout his career, Seroff is behind only one member of the epee lineup in terms of total matches. His experience will be invaluable as the epee team looks to make a strong run in the NCAAs.
Gettings will not only bring superior mental toughness to the strip, but also a keen ability for racking up points in crucial moments. Gettings sports a career mark of 52-15 - after 17-6 just a year ago.
Widely considered one of the best offensive fencers on the team, Osborne has parlayed his technique into success on the strip. Having only fenced since he was 15, Osborne will continue to learn and get better as his career goes on. In his second season with the Irish, he raised his winning percentage over 25 points, and with the tutelage of head coach Bednarski may reach new heights this season.
After transferring from Columbia, Kelly has continued to grow as both a fencer and a leader. In his two seasons since arriving at Notre Dame he has amassed a 27-14 record with the epee. Throughout his last year with the Irish, Kelly will continue to hone his craft with his weapon and be ready to step in whenever called upon.
Junior Chris Pinkowski and sophomore Jack Piasio will be relied on to add depth and toughness to an already stacked lineup.
The men's foil squad can put its stamp on the NCAA record books with a repeat of the scintillating 2009-10 campaign which saw the foil team post a 234-43 record while taking home the gold and bronze at the NCAA Championships in the event. First-team All-American Enzo Castellani leads the way as the returning NCAA bronze medal winner.
In addition to the NCAA qualifiers, the Irish have a bevy of foil members who could be the top fencer for most teams in the country. The motivational leader of the foil squad is 2008 All-American senior Zach Schirtz. Schirtz took to the strip 48 times last season, coming out victorious on 39 occasions. He also carries the most career victories of any returning foilist and second most among fencers on the Irish men's squad. He has come out on top in 114 matches while only succumbing to his opponent 29 times.
Fellow senior Steve Kubik will look to improve on an already stellar career in his fourth and last year bouting for the Irish. In his first three years on campus, Kubik has compiled 107 wins, good enough for second within the weapon group, trailing only Schirtz.
Grant Hodges burst onto the national fencing scene last season as he sported a freshman record of 33-3. Hodges' freshman winning percentage (.917) is bested only by fellow teammate Meinhardt, when he went 31-2 (.940) during his initial campaign in South Bend. Hodges is poised for another great season, in which he will be one of the top ranked fencers in every event he is entered.
Continuing with the deep rotation of foilists on the team, juniors Reggie Bentley and Nicholas Crebs both look to capitalize on strong sophomore seasons and continue the dominance that the Irish have had in years past in the weapon.
Newcomer Ariel DeSmet also will provide an added weapon in the arsenal for the men's foil squad and will look to push his fellow foilists for a spot in the rotation as the season progresses.
Notre Dame's sabre unit is one of the deepest, most talented squad's in all the land. With returning sabre specialists sporting combined records of 472-152, it's hard to imagine that there is a more experienced group of fencers out there using the sabre as their weapon of choice.
With Zuck and Nydam returning to the strip to make yet another run at a national championships, the Irish will again retain a group of top-10 NCAA finishers.
In the upcoming year look for Zuck to continue to use his innate speed and quick thinking on the strip to better his 2009-10 record of 34-7 and bring home an NCAA title.
Nydam is an emotional competitor who benefits from his outstanding natural speed and tall frame. With hard work and continued guidance from coaches, Nydam will be expected to bring home countless victories for the Irish.
The most experienced Irish fencer who wields a sabre is Keith Feldman. Feldman has competed in 88 matches in his collegiate career and has been victorious in 70 of them. The experience that Feldman brings to the team will prove invaluable as the Irish look to climb over the top and bring home their eighth NCAA title.
Three other integral pieces to success for the Irish men's sabre team are Marcel Frenkel, William McGough and Anthony Schlehuber. These three teammates combined for an astonishing 85 wins last year compared to only 14 defeats.