Jan. 22, 2009
NOTRE DAME, Ind. –
After finishing in second place at the 2008 NCAA Championships, the Irish are poised for another run at the program’s third national title since 2003, and eighth overall. Their title aspirations are boosted in the knowledge that the 2008-09 lineup includes 12 All-Americans and two 2008 U.S. Olympians.
Ten of the 12 returning All-Americans earned the elite status in 2008, including individual NCAA champions Kelley Hurley and Sarah Borrmann. In women’s epee, Hurley followed up her NCAA second-place finish as a freshman with a gold-medal finish as a sophomore. As a freshman, Borrmann became the sixth sabre champion under head coach Janusz Bednarski’s guidance, as she combined with Hurley for the 11th and 12th individual championships in program history.
While the 2008 lineup relied on many underclassmen, the 2009 lineup is deeper in veteran experience and leadership as well as showcasing some of the best sophomore and freshmen classes in the nation. All told, seven of 2008’s 10 All-Americans will be sophomores in 2009. With a year of NCAA competition and valuable experience in the pressure-packed bouts of the NCAA Championship, those seven All-Americans could help turn Notre Dame’s second-place finish from 2008 into a first-place showing in 2009.
Aside from Hurley and Borrmann, the women return first team All-Americans Ewa Nelip (epee) and Adrienne Nott (foil), second team All-American Eileen Hassett (sabre) and third team All-American Hayley Reese.
Notre Dame’s returning 2008 men’s All-Americans include senior epeeist Karol Kostka, the sophomore foil duo of Steve Kubik and Zach Schirtz, and sabreist Barron Nydam. In foilist Mark Kubik and sabreist Bill Thanhouser, the men’s side also has two fencers who earned All-America status in 2007.
The men’s team was hit harder by graduation as it lost two-time second team All-American Greg Howard from the epee squad and three-time All-American Jakub Jedrkowiak from the foil unit. Howard earned his All-America honors in 2007 and 2008, while Jedrkowiak earned All-America status from 2005-07. Due to graduation, the women’s side lost foil team captain Rachel Cota, who amassed 135 regular-season wins in her four seasons with the Irish.
Bednarski and his staff will not only rely on their promising returnees to fill in any vacancies, they will also turn to the talented newcomers they have brought in. Leading the freshman class on the women’s side will be Courtney Hurley, younger sister of Kelley. Courtney, one of the most highly touted junior epeeists in the world, won the 2006 Cadet World Championship in Korea. Foilist Gerek Meinhardt leads a list of promising newcomers on the men’s side. He became the youngest U.S. fencer to take part in the Olympics when he took to the strip in Beijing this past summer. He combines with Kelley Hurley to give the Irish two Olympic-tested fencers on the roster at one time for the first time in program history.
Here’s a look at the Irish, by weapon:
Kim Montoya (Las Vegas, Nevada), a three-year monogram winner, will serve as the epee team co-captain for the second consecutive season, bringing experience and a veteran presence to the young epee lineup. In three seasons, she has totaled an impressive 150 regular-season wins with the Irish as well as finishing seventh in last season’s NCAA Midwest Regional.
“Montoya is shy but has a strongly ambitious personality and a love for technical excellence, elegance in actions and great point control during the fierce duels,” said seventh-year head coach Bednarski.
The left-handed Kelley Hurley (San Antonio, Texas), who is also expected to compete in women’s foil this season, spearheads the epee lineup. The two-time first team All-American has dominated her NCAA opposition while fencing with the Irish, posting a 98-5 regular-season record in just two seasons. In her run to the NCAA championship last season, Hurley had 16 wins and a +30 touch mark.
Hurley’s epee season extended far beyond winning the NCAA title, as the junior went on to fence for the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. She was the only woman’s epeeist to represent the U.S. because there was no women’s epee team event at the 2008 Games.
“Hurley is one of the biggest talents in the history of US fencing- a Cadet and Junior World Champion, an Olympian, a NCAA Champion and a medalist at many competitions,” said Bednarski. “She can fence in foil and epee this year and as such a powerful talent she can be help for us on both sides. Without fear and with fighting character, she loves to fence in hard situations when others are ready to give up.”
Sophomore Ewa Nelip will serve as the other women’s epee team co-captain in 2009 after earning All-America honors in her first season with the Irish. The 5-8 native of Katowice, Poland continues Notre Dame’s recent trend of adding fencers from Poland, which is Bednarski’s homeland. She finished in third place to take home the bronze medal at last year’s NCAA championship, earning first team All-America honors in the process.
Ranked 23rd in the women’s junior F.I.E world rankings (as of Dec. 7, 2008), Nelip combines with Hurley and Montoya to form one of the most experienced and accomplished epee trios in the nation.
“Nelip is one of the best European women’s epeeists. She is a great talent and great performer with a blend of intelligence and sporting excellence but she also has one of the highest GPA’s on the team. She is fencer who can be a decisive factor in hard matches as she is complete with true Fighting Irish character and spirit,” stated Bednarski.
Add freshman Courtney Hurley to the mix and the Irish boast not only one of the most experienced epee lineups, but one of the deepest in the NCAA field as well. Courtney, who has already won junior world cup events in Montreal, Canada and Tauber, Germany in the fall of 2008, is the top-ranked junior epeeist in the F.I.E. world rankings (as of Dec. 7, 2008). She has finished in the top-10 at 12 of the 13 junior tournament events she has entered since 2007, including three gold medal triumphs.
“Courtney Hurley is going to show the entire World that she does not want to be overshadowed by her talented sister. A gold medal in a Cadet World Championships and her current F.I.E. ranking of first overall in the world junior rankings combined with her recent performance in the World Cup series shows that she is taking all her starts seriously and wants to be better than others, including her older sister Kelley,” said Bednarski. “She is a fencer with tremendous reaction time and she is skilled in preparing a strategy to win against her next opponent.”
The left-handed Nott (Pittsford, N.Y.) will lead the squad as a team captain for the second consecutive season. She will also be vying to become a rare four-time All-American in 2009, having most recently earned first team All-America honors with a fourth-place finish at the 2008 NCAA Championships. Nott excels in the class room as well as on the strip, and as a captain should prove a valuable resource for many of her younger teammates. An Academic Honors Faculty Mentoring Participant, Nott was selected to the 2008 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District V at-large team as a double major in psychology and Japanese. She enters the 2009 season with 170 regular-season wins against just 22 losses, good for an .885 winning percentage.
“Nott is a senior captain who, in the last few years, was the number one women foilist on our team and one of the best fencers in the nation. With a small frame and big character she was one of those who surprised opponents in her bouts with her skillful actions. In the last few years she improved her accuracy of touches so she can land the tip of her foil on a square inch of her opponents’ target, moving the blade with the speed of the light. She is a team player and an intelligent student who can be a model for all student-athletes,” said Bednarski.
Reese (Crestwood, Ky.), who is just a sophomore, joins Nott as a returning All-American to the 2009 foil squad. She finished in 11th place to earn third team honors at last season’s NCAA Championship and was one of four freshmen to garner All-America honors for the Notre Dame women’s fencing team last season. Aside from totaling 11 wins at NCAAs, Reese posted 69 wins in the regular season, tying Nott for the most wins on the foil squad.
“Hayley Reese is a young fencer who can not stand to lose. Defeat is not an option when she is coming onto the strip,” said Bednarski. “She is a very intelligent player who forces opponents to fence her way. She has a great future and is an excellent academic performer as well. It is hard to believe how she can do ROTC, NCAA and USFA fencing complete with international competitions and be such a good student.”
With three years of experience to draw upon, including a 14th-place finish at the 2007 NCAAs, senior Emilie Prot (Limoges, France) should prove to be a valuable member of the foil team as well. Prot enters the 2009 season as one of four women’s fencers on the Irish roster with over 100-career regular-season wins (170). She had another solid season in 2008 and will look to make her mark at the NCAAs in her last season with the Irish. In 2008, she was a quarterfinalist at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship and she finished sixth at the NCAA Midwest Regional.
“Prot is a senior who blends ambitious studies and caring about the team performance during a busy senior year so seamlessly,” said Bednarksi. He continued, “She is extremely talented and elegant and able to win in very important bouts. She will be a great help for our young team and her experience in NCAA competitions can be a very important factor for us this season because she can bring decisive touches in tough matches during NCAA play.”
Senior Ashley Serrette (Orange, N.J.) will, for the second year in a row, serve as the women’s sabre team captain. Her veteran status has been bolstered by three consecutive years in which she earned a monogram for the Irish as well as by participating in the 2007 NCAA Championships. She has notched 184 career regular-season wins, including 66 in the 2008 regular season. Serette also managed an appearance in last season’s Midwest Fencing Conference quarterfinals and a seventh- place showing at the 2008 NCAA regional.
“Serrette, our team captain, is also one of the most talented athletes on our team. Though she has less experience than others she has such a great attitude and ambitious performances that it helps the team to victories. In addition to her great fencing performances she is a volunteer for many social actions in our local community. She has wonderful personality and she represents what it means to be a student-athlete at Notre Dame,” commented Bednarski.
While Serette will provide the leadership for the young sabre squad, Borrmann (Beaverton, Ore.) will provide the example to follow as she tries to defend her NCAA title. She posted an impressive 73-7 regular-season record as a freshman and went on to advance to the Midwest Fencing Conference semifinals, a third-place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional and she concluded the 2008 season by earning the gold at the NCAA Championships. Her impressive run at the NCAA’s included a +43 touch margin and 18 wins.
“Borrman is our current NCAA Champion who is doing everything to prepare for decisive duels in the next NCAA Championship. Designated this year as a squad co-captain, she is an intelligent and emotional fighter on the strip. With her talent to read opponents strategy and the ability to perform in stressful situations she will surely be a candidate for a NCAA title again this year.”
Sophomore Hassett, who joins Borrmann as a native of Beaverton, Ore., also had an impressive freshman season and will look to build upon the success of her first year of collegiate fencing. She finished in fifth place at the NCAA’s to earn second team All-America honors while racking up 67 regular-season victories.
“Hassett is one of the most talented sabreists to come to Notre Dame in the last few years. Tall and quick, she is a fighter with the ability to attack and she utilizes sophisticated stop cuts in defense. She will be a very important athlete for our women’s sabre team as she gives us a chance for team and individual medals this season.”
Similar to last season when the Irish received a lift from Borrmann and Hassett, freshmen Beatriz Almeida (Chappagua, N.Y.) and Darsie Malynn (Grapevine, Texas) are expected to make valuable contributions in their first season with the Irish as well.
“Beatriz Almeida is a new face with great enthusiasm and talent. She is an intelligent fighter with the ability to use parries in defense, a sign of tremendous reaction time,” commented Bednarski. “Additionally, Darcy Malynn is a young fencer who works hard and possesses a great will to be a champion. Her skills are growing day-by-day and her technical superiority will give her the ability to be one of the best athletes on our foil team,” continued Bednarski.
Leading the men’s epee squad will be Kostka (Krakow, Poland), a three-time NCAA participant and a two-time All-American. The senior will serve as the men’s epee team captain in 2009. A former member of Poland’s Junior National Team, Kotska notched 46 regular-season wins last year to run his total to 137 career wins with the Irish.
“Kostka was one of the best junior fencers in all of Europe four years ago and has not completely showcased his skill yet in NCAA play, partly because bouts are only to five touches and with his style he prefers to fight much longer to show his dominance,” said Bednarski. “But it is his last chance to win a medal and I know that he will fence strong to graduate with an engineering degree and a chance at an NCAA title this year.”
Kostka’s leadership and drive could prove pivotal to the epee squad, as the rest of the team is relatively inexperienced. The Irish will be looking for newcomer Brent Kelly (Grapevine, Texas), a junior transfer from Columbia, to make an immediate impact and help fill the void left by the graduation of two time All-American Greg Howard.
Kelly qualified for last season’s NCAA Championships with Columbia and went on to record seven wins at the event for a 21st-place finish. “Brent is an intelligent and ambitious fighter who can be a very important factor in Notre Dame’s finish at this year’s final,” added Bednarski.
Beyond Kostka and Kelly, the Irish will rely on sophomores Conor Gettings (Lake Forest, Ill.), Jacob Osborne (Colleyville, Texas), Greg Schoolcraft (San Jose, Calif.) and Andrew Seroff (Boulder, Colo.). Though Osborne is a sophomore, he did not compete for the Irish last season but, says Bednarski, “Jacob is fencer who can win against anybody and at the same time can run the technical show and score sophisticated touches as he gets more stable and more mature in his bouts.”
The trio of Gettings, Schoolcraft and Seroff combined for an 84-26 mark as freshmen, showing vast improvements as the season wore on. Schoolcraft put together an impressive run that saw him reach the finals of the NCAA Midwest Regional, while Seroff placed seventh at the same event. About Schoolcraft, Bednarski said, “Greg is a strong guy who, no doubt about it, can be a big problem for his opponents because fencing Greg is like rodeo horse riding in that you never know what will happen from one second to the next.”
The foil squad could prove to be the deepest lineup on the men’s side in 2009, as it is the only men’s weapon to return two 2008 All-Americans, namely Steve Kubik and Zach Schirtz. As freshmen, Kubik and Schirtz finished in eighth and 11th place respectively at the 2008 NCAAs.
Kubik posted a 42-9 record, while finishing third at the NCAA Midwest Regional and earning Midwest Fencing Conference First Team honors with a third-place finish at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship.
“Steve Kubik is a fencer who is progressing sometimes faster than he expects,” said Bednarski. “He is able to stand against anybody in an individual duel and is also a great fencer in team matches. He is a very strong fighter with a great amount of self control and unlimited potential, which he showed in last season’s NCAA Championship.”
Schirtz was part of a powerful freshmen class for the Irish last season, posting a 47-11 regular-season record before proving his post-season mettle not only with an All-American finish at the NCAAs, but a fifth-place finish at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship.
“Schirtz had a very strong season last year and was a top athlete on the foil team. He gives everything in a duel and he can win against anybody if the game is going his way. This year will be another chance for him to make decisive progress.”
Steve Kubik’s older brother, Mark, should also compete for a place at the NCAAs. He finished sixth at the NCAA Midwest Regional last season while also finishing as the runner-up at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship.
“Mark Kubik has a great reservoir of enthusiasm, tactical knowledge and intelligence on the strip” said Bednarski. “He will help the foil squad to win but he will also show the underclassmen how to win and he will show others how to respect opponents. He is simply a great athlete with a great personality.”
Mark has competed at NCAA Championships in two of his previous three seasons with the Irish, including 2007 when he earned All-America honors with a seventh-place finish. In 2009 he will serve as a foil team captain for the second consecutive season.
Fencing alongside the foil All-America trio of Kubik, Kubik and Schirtz will be freshmen Frederick Bentley (Little Rock, Ark.), Enzo Castellani and Gerek Meinhardt, all of whom the coaching staff believes will each, one day, have a shot at All-America honors as well. Meinhardt joined the Irish after participating in the 2008 Olympics for the U.S. Foil squad, where he became the youngest Olympic fencer in program history (see Olympic note on p. 20).
“Meinhardt does not need recommendations for he is one of the best foilists not only in the USA or North America but in the world. He has talent, skill and great technique from his club coach and the experience from the 2008 Olympic Games. We can only hope that his injury and subsequent surgery that he underwent in the fall will not limit his fencing progress this year,” said Bednarski.
“Enzo Castellani has been one of the most talented U.S. foilists over the last year,” said Bednarski. “He is a great fighter and also someone who can see everything a second earlier than others and thus act faster than others. His long range attacks and superior reaction time gives us hope that not many squads can count on winning foil matches when Castellani is on the strip.”
“Freshman Frederick Bentley is showing that he does not want be behind anybody in foil and his recent results are showing that he will be trying to get to the top of the foil group. His ability to control distance and to deliver hits in a very sophisticated way is making him an unpredictable athlete who makes our foil squad stronger and more interesting,” added Bednarski.
The men’s sabre squad should prove especially productive for the Irish in 2009, as it includes three All-America honorees in Thanhouser (Portland, Ore.), Nydam (Ranch Santa Fe, Calif.) and Zuck (Beaverton, Ore.). Thanhouser, who will be looking to return to NCAAs where he became an All-American in 2007, will serve as the team’s captain. In three seasons with the Irish, he has amassed an impressive 139 regular-season wins. A veteran of World Cup competition with the U.S. Junior National Team, Thanhouser will be looking to make a lasting impression in his senior year with the program as he keeps the highly-competitive sabre squad focused on team goals.
“Thanhouser is working hard and showcasing much determination this year to prove that as a captain of the saber squad he can also be a leader on the strip. His enthusiasm and drive for success can help the team to get to the top. He is a great technician who is quick on his feet and one of our strongest athletes,” concluded Bednarski.
Nydam, a 6-1 lefthander, comes off a freshman season in which he finished sixth at NCAAs and racked up 36 regular-season wins. This fall, the talented sophomore has moved to 27th on the F.I.E. world junior rankings (as of 12/8/2008), aided by a second-place finish at the Junior World Cup event held in Montreal (10/25/2008).
“Nydam is our great sabre talent- with intelligence and fantasy on the strip- who will be an important factor for Irish this year. Last year he was close to the top four NCAA athletes in men’s sabre. Let’s hope that, despite injuries, he can finish even stronger this year.”
Nydam’s classmate Zuck is continuing to make a name for himself on the world junior scene as well after a year of Bednarski’s tutelage. Currently, Zuck sits in 13th in the F.I.E. world junior rankings (as of 12/8/2008), as he has finished in the top-12 at four of the five Junior World Cup events he entered in 2008.
“Zuck looks like someone who is progressing very quickly into a top U.S. athlete and also a top NCAA challenger. Last year he did not have the luck to qualify for the NCAA final and I know that this year he will do everything that can be done to be among the NCAA finalists,” said Bednarski.
The sophomore duo of Nydam and Zuck also hold down two of the top-four spots in the U.S. Junior rankings for men’s sabre (as of 12/18/2008), with Zuck ranked first overall and Nydam fourth.
“Feldman is showing he has the talent and drive to be a strong sabre fencer and could be our secret weapon against many teams this year. I am amazed how much potential he has,” mused Bednarski.
“Frenkel is someone who is bringing a Brazilian samba style to the NCAA fencing dance. He is extremely smart and he is a fast fighter who can deliver hits like a lighting strike.”
Feldman and Frenkel’s transitions into the world of collegiate fencing should be made easier through the leadership of Thanhouser and the knowledge of Nydam and Zuck, who transitioned into the core of the sabre team a year ago.