March 3, 2006

The Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing teams next face the final step in preparing to repeat as NCAA champions, during Saturday’s annual Midwest Regional qualifier (March 4) that is being held this year at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center Annex Gym. Selections for the NCAA Championship are based on two primary criteria: regional seeding (40%) – with the Irish well-positioned in that record – and regional finish (60%). Each school can qualify a maximum of two fencers per weapon, with the NCAA field including 24 in each weapon. The complete 144-fencer NCAA field officially will be announced on Tuesday, March 7.

The Midwest Region’s automatic NCAA spots vary by weapon, with five in every weapon except men’s foil (3). Notre Dame and Ohio State (the ’04 NCAA champion and ’05 runner-up) will be looking to qualify the maximum 12 fencers for the 2006 NCAAs (March 16-19, at the Houston Galleria Marriott) – with the Irish poised to claim the full 12 spots, based on seeding, while OSU has only eight spots lined up heading into the Regional. The Buckeyes are close to claiming a second spot in both women’s epee and women’s sabre, with the longest odds coming in women’s foil.

A new format in the regional will incorporate a direct-elimination stage in the competition, following the pool rounds. In previous Regional competitions, the pool bouts were followed by a full-round robin and standings then were determined by those won-loss records. All places will be fenced out in the 2006 DE format. The full schedule follows below:

8:15 a.m. – fence-in pools in women’s epee and women’s foil
9:00 a.m. – first-round pools in women’s weapons
10:00 a.m. – DEs in women’s weapons (all places decided by fencing)
12:15 p.m. – fence-in pools in men’s epee and men’s foil
1:00 p.m. – first-round pools in men’s weapons
1:00 p.m. – finals in women’s weapons
2:00 p.m. – DEs in men’s weapons (all places decided by fencing)
5:00 p.m. – finals in men’s weapons

Three teams from other regions – Penn State, St. John’s and Columbia – join ND and OSU as the teams most likely to contend for the 2006 NCAA title while other Ivy League squads such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale also could produce a high number of NCAA entrants.

In addition to the qualifications out of the nation’s four regions, a handful of at-large NCAA spots (two per weapon) also exist to round out the 24 competitors in each weapon – thus providing one final chance for teams to qualify the maximum 12-fencer contingent. During the ’02-’03 seasons, Notre Dame qualified 11 fencers after the Regional before adding a 12th qualifier through the at-large process while the ’04 team qualified 10 after the Regional and an 11th fencer via the at-large process – and then the 2005 team qualified 10 before adding an 11th as an at-large entry.

Notre Dame has the top two seeds in three different weapons – women’s sabre, men’s sabre (also the #3 seed) and men’s foil (also #5 seed) – while also featuring the top men’s epee seed (also #3 and #4). Notre Dame fencers are seeded 3-4-5 in women’s foil (behind two Northwestern fencers) and 4-5-7 in women’s epee, with Wayne State holding the top two spots followed by a Northwestern epeeist.

Some of Saturday’s drama actually will center around what ND fencers finish higher in certain weapons, as several have almost identical power rankings based on their regular-season results: junior Matt Stearns and freshman Bill Thanhouser in sabre; sophomore Greg Howard and junior Aaron Adjemian in epee; freshman Emilie Prot and sophomore Melanie Bautista in foil; and the freshman epee tandem

Here’s a look at how the Regional seedings and matchups shape up, sorted by weapon:

WOMEN’S SABRE (5 spots) – The Midwest Region picked up an extra qualification spot in this weapon for 2006 but Notre Dame is well on track to qualifying two fencers, led by sophomore Mariel Zagunis (the ’05 NCAA runner-up and ’04 Olympic gold medalist) as the #1 seed and junior Valerie Providenza (’04 NCAA champ; ’05 semifinalist) as the 2-seed … other top seeds (3-6) include WSU’s Katarzyna Kuziak, OSU’s Siobhan Byrne, Northwestern’s Emily Pasternak and OSU’s Eileen Grench … Grench could claim one of the NCAA spots with at least a top-5 finish (she also could advance as at at-large pick) … the 7-9 seeds include Northwestern’s Mai Vu, Detroit’s Rebekah Sima and ND freshman Ashley Serrette … Zagunis did not compete in the 2005 Regional due to a World Cup conflict (such waivers no longer are allowed) … Providenza placed 5th at the 2004 Regional (as the 2-seed) before inverting those results in 2005 (5-seed, finished as runner-up) … ND junior Angela Vincent is the #13 seed at the 2006 Regional (she was the ’04 Regional runner-up and placed 4th in ’05, also competing in the ’04 NCAAs) … OSU fencers won the previous three Regional titles: Louise Bond-Williams (’03), Marguerite Plekhanov (’04) and Galliard (’05).

MEN’S SABRE (5 spots) – Notre Dame fencers hold down the top three spots, in the form of juniors Patrick Ghattas (A two-time All-American and ’05 NCAA runner-up) and Matt Stearns (a 2005 All-American) plus freshman Bill Thanhouser – the nation’s #2-ranked under-20 men’s sabreist who just was named to the U.S. team that will compete at the 2006 Junior World Championships in Korea (during Easter weekend) … Detroit’s Jaroslaw Jelinek is the #4 seed and is close to making a return trip to the NCAAs while OSU three-time All-Americans Jason Rogers (’04 USA Olympian) and Adam Crompton (’03 and ’04 NCAA champ) are the 5-6 seeds and likely to advance to the NCAAs … OSU newcomer Mike Momtseledze is seeded just behind Rogers and Crompton and could pass one of his teammates with a strong Regional showing … WSU’s Bobby Smith is the #8 seed whole ND senior Nico Diacou is seeded 13th … Ghattas also was the top seed at the 2004 Regional (finished 4th) and then won the ’05 Regional title … Stearns also tied for 4th at the 2004 Regional and then matched his #4 seed at the ’05 Regional … Crompton won the ’03 and ’04 Regional titles.

MEN’S EPEE (5 spots) – ND freshman Karol Kostkais the #1 seed, followed by WSU’s Marek Petraszek (the ’05 NCA runner-up) and two other ND fencers (Howard and Adjemian) is the 3-4 seeds … OSU has three fencers – Christian Rivera, Denis Tolkachev and Jason Pryor – who are seeded 5-7 and are in position to battle for the final two spots … Cleveland State’s Jeff Tormey is a distant 8th seed … ND junior Patrick Gettings is seeded 10th … Adjemian (a 2005 NCAA participant) nearly surged into the ’04 NCAAs after tying for 4th at the Regional (as the #7 seed) before matching his #5 seed at the ’05 Regional … Howard placed 7th at the ’05 Regional … Tolkachev won the ’04 Regional title while former WSU fencer Wojciech Dudek was the ’05 champ (former ND fencer Jan Viviani won in ’03).

WOMEN’S EPEE (5 spots) – The Region’s spots have dropped back one, after having six women’s epee spots in 2005 … WSU’s Anna Garina (the ’04 and ’05 NCAA champ) is the #1 seed as she looks to win a third straight Regional title (the ’04 event ended in a 5-way tie) … another WSU fencer, newcomer Justyna Konczalska, is the #2 seed, followed by Northwestern’s Sharon Sullivan and the ND due of junior Amy Orlando and freshman Stephan … OSU two-time All-American Kaela Brendler is the #6 seed and will need at least a top-5 finish to earn one of the Region’s spots in the NCAAs … ND’s Montoya is the #7 seed, followed by OSU’s Aleksandra Obrazcova, Northwestern’s Courtney DuBois and OSU’s Leslie Lampman … ND fifth-year senior Becca Chimahusky is the #13 seed … Orlando placed 7th at the 2004 Regional and 5th in ’05 (as #5 seed at both events) … Chimahusky placed 10th at the 2004 Regional before an impressive 3rd-place finish in ’05 (as the #9 seed) … former ND fencer Meagan Call won the 2003 Regional title, after a three-way fencer vs. teammate Kerry Walton and WSU’s Anna Vinnikov.

WOMEN’S FOIL (5 spots) – The Northwestern duo of Sam Nemecek and Jessica Florendo hold the top seeds but ND fencers are 3-5: Adi Nott, fellow freshman Prot and sophomore Bautista … WSU’s Lindsey Howard is the #6 seed, followed by Northwestern’s Natalie Wang … OSU’s Amelia Galliard (a sabre All-American in ’05) is the #12 seed in women’s foil while ND senior Colleen Walsh is the 13th seed … Bautista was the #7 seed before finishing 6th at the 2005 Regional … Walsh was 8th at the 2003 Regional and 6th at the ’04 event (as the #11 seed) … former ND standout Alicja Kryczalo won the 2002-05 Midwest Regional titles, including fenceoffs in ’03 (vs. WSU’s Inga Wallrabenstein) and ’05 (vs. Florendo).

MEN’S FOIL (3 spots) – This weapon also has seen the Region lose a spot, meaning that either ND or OSU will fail to qualify two (prior to the at-large picks) … ND freshman Mark Kubik and sophomore Jakub Jedrkowiak own the top seeds, followed by the OSU duo of newcomer Andras Horanyi and Boaz Ellis (the two-time NCAA champ) … ND junior Frank Bontempo (a ’04 NCAA participant and ’05 alternate) is the #5 seed, followed by OSU freshman Dimitri Kirk-Gordon … ND sophomore Diego Quinonez is the #11 seed … Bontempo was the #5 seed at the 2004 Regional and finished 3rd before placing 5th in ’05 … Jedrkowiak was the #2 seed and tied for the 2005 Regional title … former ND fencer Derek Snyder was the 2003 and ’04 Regional champ while OSU’s Will Jeter won a fenceoff with Jedrkowiak for the ’05 title (Jeter is the #9 seed at the ’06 Regional).