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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Fencing: Prot leads Irish women to perfect ND Duals

Notre Dame didn't have a perfect weekend, but it came close.

The Irish went 16-1 and had just two close contests in the Notre Dame Duals - and both were to 2006 No. 3 Ohio State. The Irish women swept the field Saturday, including an exciting 14-13 victory over the Buckeyes. The men from Columbus returned the favor Sunday, with an even more dramatic finish.

Notre Dame and Ohio State were deadlocked at 13 bouts apiece with Irish sophomore epee Karol Kostka dueling Buckeyes sophomore Jason Pryor for the team title-clinching 14th victory. Notre Dame and Ohio State cruised past every other opponent in the 10-team Notre Dame Duals, but when the two squads met each other, centimeters determined the winner.

Pryor got off to a fast start, scoring consecutive points to open the bout before earning a double-touch to put him up 3-1. Notre Dame assistant coach Gia Kvaratskhelia called timeout with 1:35 left in the bout to regroup Kostka. He delivered immediately, scoring a tough point to bring the deficit to 3-2 but then surrendering another point to Pryor to fall behind 4-2.

Kostka responded once again, making the score 4-3 with 36 seconds left. But Pryor tied up Kostka and managed a double touch to give him a 5-4 victory and the Ohio State men a season-opening win over their newfound rivals.

"This was a clash of two very equal teams, and I think our kids did a very good job," Irish coach Janusz Bednarski said. "After so many touches during the day, one touch decides it."

Behind the steady, solid performances of veteran and young fencers, Notre Dame overcame the absence of two of its best members - junior sabre Mariel Zagunis and senior sabre Patrick Ghattas - to prove it belongs among the top teams in the country once again.

For the Irish women, the top moment was their close victory over the Buckeyes. With the team score at 11-11, Irish sophomore foil Emilie Prot tied her bout with less than five seconds left before winning in sudden death.

"I had no idea" how close the teams were, Prot said. "I think if I did, I would have lost."

Kvaratskhelia said that bout was the crucial one for the Irish against the Buckeyes.

"If Prot loses, we lose," he said. "That was an amazing moment. ... It was a thriller."

Moments after Prot's victory, Irish senior epee Amy Orlando won her bout to give the Irish a 13-11 lead.

"I knew what I had to do against the people I was fencing," Orlando said. "I just put the whole score and everything out of my mind and focused on what I needed to do."

Prot won her final bout, and the Irish took the 14-13 victory over the Buckeyes. The Irish women beat every other team by at least seven bouts.

Although the men lost, Bednarski, who was worried about how his squad would fence before the competition, said Notre Dame's performance was pleasantly unexpected.

"For me, this was a little bit surprising positively," Bednarski said. "It was a nice surprise how well we did."

Notre Dame started the men's competition with big wins, easily beating Cal State-Fullerton, Wayne State, Lawrence and Northwestern. After the Ohio State bout, the Irish toppled UC San Diego, Detroit Mercy, Cleveland State and Stanford.

Notre Dame was down 10-6 to Ohio State before mounting a furious comeback fueled by junior epee Greg Howard and senior epee Aaron Adjemian. Both Howard and Adjemain captured their final two bouts, and the Irish climbed to a 13-12 lead seconds before Buckeyes junior foil William Jeter beat Irish senior Frank Bontempo to set up the climatic final bout.