March 18, 2005
HOUSTON, Texas – Note: The Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencers are in the midst of their four-day quest for the program’s seventh NCAA title, at Houston’s George Brown Convention Center. Fans of the Irish can follow the action at und.com, with daily preview stories and recaps (plus photos from the NCAA bouts) and a series of feature stories that includes this unique connection between a pair of Notre Dame sophomore epeeists (also see http://und.collegesports.com/sports/c-fenc/spec-rel/031705aaj.html for a feature on the ND men’s sabre competitors at the NCAAs and look for more features through the weekend).
By Greg Touney
Aviophobia is one of the terms used to describe the fear of flying.
Due to competitions that can span not only the nation but also the globe, fencers are rather familiar with the friendly skies. However, no one would be surprised if Adjemian and Orlando, both sophomore epeeists, have accrued the most frequent flyer miles on the 2005 Notre Dame fencing squad.
For Adjemian, flying was not just a way to travel to competitions, but a means to go to his training lessons in high school. If you think driving across town is a hassle, try going from El Paso, Texas, to Portland, Oregon.
Carpooling to practice? Forget about it.
After a while, Adjemian says his commutes back and forth became habit – and even enjoyable.
“During my junior year, I was trying to make the U.S. world cadet team,” Adjemian recalls of his weekend journeys to the Northwest Fencing Center that occurred twice a month for four months. “I would go up to Portland every other weekend for that and train with my coaches and I ended up qualifying for the team that year.
“It’s kind of fun to travel because you get to see a lot of places like Turkey or Germany or Slovakia.”
Aaron Adjemian – shown during his ’05 debut at the NCAAs – is a native of El Paso, Texas, but has trained in another region of the country at the Northwest Fencing Center (photo by Pete LaFler).
Adjemian’s destination this week has been Houston, where he and the rest of the Irish fencing squad are trying to claim their seventh national title at the 2005 NCAA championships.
The Texan has high hopes for his side during this weekend, despite Notre Dame qualifying 11 of the maximum 12 fencers (St. John’s is the only team to qualify the full 12, while Ohio State and Penn State also have 11).
“I think we have a really good chance,” Adjemian says. “We have 11 qualifiers but I think altogether we’re a strong group.”
As a key component of the Irish men’s epee squad, Adjemian already has contributed to a strong group this year. Led by Adjemian, three-time All-American Michal Sobieraj and newcomer Greg Howard, the 2005 men’s epeeists turned in one of the more spectacular years for their weapon in recent memory by defeating all 24 of their opponents and finishing winning nearly 86% of their regular-season bouts (.856).
Adjemian has used the 2005 season to erase a tough end to his freshman campaign. In 2004, the Midwest Region was allocated five spots for men’s epeeists. When the regional bouting was done, Adjemian stood in the sixth spot.
“I did just miss the NCAAs last year and so this year I want to prove that I should be there,” Adjemian says.
While the Midwest was granted six spots this year in Adjemian’s weapon, he arguably faced more intense competition in 2005.
Aaron Adjemian has tackled the new challenge of competing at the NCAAs in ’05, doing so in his home state – albeit 900 miles from his hometown – of Texas (photo by Pete LaFleur).
Head coach Janusz Bednarski agrees with that assessment.
“For Aaron, qualifying this year was not easier than last year, but his will to be at the NCAAs and his experience too – in terms of what to do a year later – helped him to make it,” Bednarski explains.
“He didn’t have weaker opponents this year. He even had an internal challenge from Greg Howard and he beat him.”
Adjemian hopes to do his best to contribute to the Irish win total at the NCAAs and he will have plenty of support, not only from the team, but also from the stands. Adjemian expects a family contingent to make the trek across the state of Texas to Houston. Because of the sheer enormity of the state (their journey is approximately 900 miles), fittingly, his family will have to fly.
“My whole family is actually coming because I didn’t get a chance to go home for spring break because of training,” Adjemian says. “So my mom, dad, little brother and grandma and grandpa are coming.”
Orlando, who also trained at the Northwest Fencing Center (NFC) under the tutelage of former Notre Dame assistant coach Michael Marx, is likewise optimistic about the Irish title chances.
“I think our team has a strong chance this weekend because we have strong seniors,” she says. “I think we have a really good chance if everyone fences to their maximum potential, or close to it.”
Epeeist Amy Orlando earned All-America honors as a freshman at the ’04 NCAAs and now looks to help Notre Dame position for a run at the 2005 NCAA title (photo by Matt Cashore).
Orlando is no stranger to air travel either, as her international competitions have taken her to such places as Slovakia, Italy and Hungary. The second-year fencer also has hopped around the United States as well, living in New York, Oregon and Massachusetts during various points in her life – while still using the Portland-based NFC as her home club.
This year, Orlando is firmly set on success at the 2005 NCAAs. Her experience at the championships as a freshman should be an asset.
“I’m definitely more comfortable this year,” the psychology major says, giving a quick analysis of herself. “I’m the type of person that, if I’m not comfortable with the situation, I don’t fence as well.
“This year, I’m definitely a lot more confident. I feel really good and it helps that I’ve fenced against all the girls in the field before.”
The 2005 NCAAs might be coming at the best time for the 2004 All-American. Following a rough 9-10 start to the 2005 campaign, Orlando ripped off 27 consecutive victories to close out the regular season at 36-10.
Included in that impressive string of wins are some notable results against foes she will be meeting on the strips in Houston. She netted a pair of 5-4 wins against Wayne State’s Anna Vinnikov and Anna Garina (the ’04 women’s epee champion), as well as victories over Ohio State’s Kaela Brendler (4-3) and Northwestern’s Courtney DuBois (5-2).
Amy Orlando – shown during action at the ’04 NCAAs – is one of the top-ranked under-20 women’s epeeists in the U.S. (photo by Pete LaFleur).
The U.S. Junior National Team veteran hasn’t let up in the ’05 postseason, notching two more victories over Brendler (both 5-3 scores in the Midwest Fencing Conference team bouts and at the Midwest Regional), a 15-13 MFC semifinal triumph over Vinnikov and a close 15-14 loss to teammate and three-time All-American Kerry Walton.
Orlando notices two reasons for her strong close to the ’05 season.
“I think the main factors are feeling comfortable in my situation – it’s always nerves in the beginning – and also motivation,” she explains. “I use a lot of individual motivation when I fence, and I need to find that niche. Once I find it, I fence better.”
Bednarski is a firm believer in Orlando’s tremendous upside.
“A good part of Amy’s character is that when she has some lows during fencing, she has many peaks,” he explains. “She is always fighting and making up for everything she might lose.
“She’s growing as a fencer and she’s getting better. Hopefully, she will show her strength at the NCAAs.”
Orlando will take the strips on Saturday and Sunday for the women’s half of the NCAAs. Despite a women’s epee field that contains two former champions in Garina and Walton and a host of other top contenders, a top-four finish for Orlando is a strong possibility.
Just like Adjemian, Orlando draws strength from the support she receives from others at this weekend’s championships.
“People motivate me,” she says. “If I have a group of cheering people, it really helps me a lot. I always tell Kerry and (fellow epeeist) Becca Chimahusky to cheer for me, no matter what.”
Amy Orlando combines with fifth-year veteran Kerry Walton to give Notre Dame one of the nation’s top women’s epee combinations.
The likeable Orlando never has any problem gaining vocal backers and she is always the one of the first to return their support – she’s normally perched stripside, giving advice or an encouraging word to her fellow fencers
If everything goes to plan for the rest of the Notre Dame fencing team, there will be plenty to cheer about when the 2005 national champion is crowned following Sunday’s action.
And as for the sophomore epeeists themselves, the two will find many chances to gain individual glory by the time they graduate. In terms of Adjemian and Orlando – who each have shown a tremendous amount of potential – the clichÃƒÂ© is unavoidable: clearly, the sky’s the limit.
Amy Orlando (left), foil standout Alicja Kryczalo (center) – shown along with intern assistant coach Andrzej Bednarski during the team’s festive dinner Thursday night at Houston’s unique restaurant The Aquarium – will join the rest of Notre Dame’s top-ranked women’s fencing unit this weekend on the strips at the 2005 NCAAs (photo by Pete LaFleur).