Fencing: No. 1 Lions provide test at home for Irish
By: MATT LOZAR
It's important, but the Irish are keeping things in perspective.
No. 1 Penn State visits No. 2 Notre Dame for a showdown at this weekend's Notre Dame duals. The match will be a preview for when it really counts at the NCAA Championships in less than two months.
"It is always prestigious to have top colleges meet each other but it's a dual meet on the way to the finals," Notre Dame coach Janusz Bednarski said. "We will fence against them in the NCAA finals. The teams are checking each other out."
At last year's NCAA Championships, Notre Dame fenced Penn State for the first time that season. The Nittany Lions were able to overcome the three-point lead the womens team gave the Irish with a 4-8 record against Notre Dame's mens team.
In the womens epee competition, junior Kerry Walton defeated Penn State's Stephanie Eim 15-12 to win the national championships.
From last year's national championship team, Penn State returns nine of its 12 participants.
Last weekend at the Ohio State Duals, the mens team went 6-0 to extend its dual-match winning streak to 65 matches while the womens team went 5-1. Going into the first team event of the season, Bednarski didn't know what to expect but he came away pleased.
"I think we had a good match and I was especially impressed with the walk-ons who are winning bouts. We don't have the strongest team this year as last year due to graduation and we are in a transition phase," Bednarski said. "We lost only one match on the womens side at OSU. [Ohio State] has always been strong on the womens side. We were happy to stay close."
With womens sabre captain Destanie Milo not fencing last weekend due to an illness, Bednarski was forced to go deep down the roster and put some inexperienced fencers on the strip.
"The walk-ons made a good impression. They lost only to Ohio State and in the other matches they were dominating," he said. "We cannot put someone who started fencing 6 months ago with someone who has been fencing for 5 or 6 years."
The combination of Maggie Jordan, Danielle Davis, Tiffany Muller and Natalie Tenner went 40-14 in the six matches last weekend with eight of those losses coming against the Buckeyes. Jordan has fenced at sabre and foil in her first two years while Davis was 7-7 entering the weekend and Muller and Tenner had no prior collegiate experience.
With Milo still questionable this weekend and Natalia Mazur more than likely missing the season while still recovering from a health problem that forced her to miss the 2002 season, Bednarski will be forced to continue to rely on his bench.
In the match against Ohio State, the foil and epee squads carried the mens team to a victory with a combined 14-4 record. The sabre team won only two against the Buckeyes and the impact of losing two of the top three sabre fencers to graduation was obvious.
"It wasn't our best moment because we had a great pack of kids for six years and they have graduated," Bednarski said. "Gabor Szelle returned and for one year wasn't competing so he is making it up this year, and he is getting better.
"Ohio State mens sabre team is almost like the national team."
Notre Dame will fence Penn State at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Irish will also fence UC-San Diego, Air Force, Detroit, Northwestern, Cal-State Fullerton, Wayne State and Lawrence.
All Sports Stories for Friday, January 31, 2003