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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Irish to face rival Nittany Lions

The Irish look to obtain a first-hand scouting report of a key rival while concurrently testing their own preseason form when they travel to State College, Penn. to participate in the Penn State Max Garret Open Saturday and Sunday morning.

In the NCAA Championships in March, Penn State (160) edged Notre Dame (153) for second place. Both squads finished behind national champion Ohio State (193).

"We are going to the place of a big rival [in Penn State]," coach Janusz Bednarski said. "We would like to make a good recognition of their new roster, and additionally, we would like to show them that we are strong. This is a bit of a psychological trip."

Like last weekend's World Cup Event that saw five Irish fencers place in the top 10 -Olympic gold medalist freshman Mariel Zagunis took first in women's saber, sophomore Amy Orlando finished eighth in women's epee, freshman Greg Howard placed ninth in men's foil and sophomores Matt Stearns and Valerie Providenza took tenth in men's and women's saber, respectively - this tournament is also individual in nature dual meets don't begin until the Irish challenge New York in late January.

While the level of competition isn't likely to match that of the NCAA tournament at the end of the season, the Open nevertheless figures to boast top-notch fencers from around the country.

"The tournament is open to everybody from the whole nation," Bednarski said. "It's not a team [competition] - it's individual - but individuals are from almost all universities. I believe that it will be very strong, maybe not so high-class like the NCAA final in March, but it will be very close to that level, especially because Penn State is close to New York and in New York there are a lot of good colleges.

I know people from the West are coming because they like this competition - this is the only competition to check out the form after the preseason work. So it's like midterm exams."

Although some of the nation's top collegiate talent will be on display at the Open, one notable Notre Dame fencer who will not making the trip to Penn State this weekend is Zagunis. Exhausted from a number of international tournaments and requiring no additional work, Zagunis will instead take a few days off and be acknowledged for her Olympic achievements this past summer during halftime of the Notre Dame-Pittsburgh game Saturday afternoon.

"The reason for [Zagunis not competing] is that she's loaded by international starts," Bednarski said. "She's really engaging in too many competitions - higher caliber than collegiate competition, and there is no need to check her form. We are giving her more free time, and in addition, she will be honored on the field during the Pittsburgh game as an Olympian."

Given that the World Cup Event marked the first time Notre Dame has fenced this season, the Irish will presumably have some rust to shake off this weekend. Bednarski, however, isn't concerned.

"We are not yet in full form except those fencers who competed in the World Cup - they started already, a little bit earlier than others," Bednarski said. "Always at the beginning of the season, we are not in the best form, but I think that [other fencers] have the same problem."

The men take the strips Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m., while the women bout at the same time Sunday.