Jan. 16, 2007
AT A GLANCE
The goal for Ohio State in 2007 is the same as it always is - a Top 3 finish at the NCAA championships in March.
For five consecutive years, the Buckeyes have placed in the Top 4, with one national championship to their credit (2004). Returning from Ohio State's 2006 team, which finished No. 3 in the nation, are 16 varsity fencers, including 10 on the men's side and six on the women's. Gone, however, is a pair of three-time NCAA individual champions and three other All-Americans.
Those 16 returning fencers, three of whom were All-Americans last year, know their challenge is great. That is nothing new however - last year the Buckeyes took third at nationals with just nine competitors, compared to 12 for the first, second, and fourth-place teams.
Now in his eighth season, head coach Vladimir Nazlymov has turned Ohio State into one of the premier collegiate fencing programs in the nation. His Buckeyes have won three consecutive Midwest Fencing Conference championships over rival Notre Dame and his men's squad has won the regional title three of the last four years.
"Our first challenge is to find out who will make up our top team," Nazlymov said. "In men's epee, for example, we have five equal guys. The first three weeks of the season will be important for determining who can possibly make NCAAs. Before the season it is so hard to see that."
His men's epee squad lost three-time NCAA champion Boaz Ellis and his men's sabre team lost three-time NCAA champion Adam Crompton and Olympian Jason Rogers, so Nazlymov has positions to fill. That said, however, expectations are still very high.
"Even if we have a terrible day we have to be Top 3," Nazlymov said. "Last year we made Top 3 with just nine people, so we know nine can do it, but we want to have 12 there. We have good enough leadership in each team. If any one of our fencers has the chance (to go to NCAAs), they must show everyone they can do it. It will be hard, but we will fight for each individual result and a Top 3 finish."
Getting to that point is a scheme Nazlymov has employed since his days on the Russian Olympic team and his years as the Soviet National Team coach.
"If we know our system we will win," Nazlymov said. "For all sports, it is emotional and mental. I don't know any sport that's not mental. It's not lucky, it's a system. We want to be able to read our opponent. Body language gives a lot of information."
Nazlymov and his coaching staff will be teaching that system to a team that includes perhaps the biggest freshman class in Ohio State history.
"We have 15 freshmen, which is a lot," Nazlymov said. "And the first thing we have to instill in them is a priority on academics. Smart kids have discipline."
THE OSU WOMEN
Injuries have hit hardest on the women's side. Senior epee All-American Kaela Brendler will miss the season because of injury and newcomer Lindsay Knauer, ranked No. 5 in the U.S. Senior Division point standings, will also miss the season because of injury. Nevertheless, the Buckeyes still have enough talent to contend for a national title.
"We have had some injuries that will be very challenging to overcome, but every team has injuries," Nazlymov said. "We cannot change our plan because of injury."
The Buckeyes return one of the strongest women's sabre teams in the nation in the trio of juniors Siobhan Byrne and Eileen Grench and senior Syvenna Siebert. Byrne, who fences for the Irish National Team, took seventh at NCAAs last year and Grench placed 11th.
Gone are four of Ohio State's five women's foil fencers from a year ago, which marked the only weapon in which the Buckeyes did not score points at the national championships. Junior Byrony Tomic-Beard is back as the most experienced foilist and will be joined by newcomers Holly McKibben, Courtney Streithorst, Julia Tikhonova and Knauer when she returns from injury.
The loss of Brendler took away Ohio State's leader in women's epee, but back are juniors Alexandra Obrazcova and Leslie Lampman. Newcomer Elyse Gurnowski will be asked to contribute immediately.
THE OSU MEN
The Buckeye men have experience back in all three weapons, including first-team All-American Andras Horanyi in foil and national qualifiers Mike Momtselidze in sabre and Jason Pryor in epee.
Gone, however, are Ohio State's first three-time national champions - Adam Crompton in sabre and Boaz Ellis in foil - and All-Americans Jason Rogers in sabre and Denis Tolkachev in epee. Those four individuals comprised Ohio State's Top 4 fencers last year, but the holdovers and a talented freshman class of seven newcomers are ready to take their place.
Last year, the OSU men had one of the more dominating performances in regional championship history as they claimed four of the Top 5 individual spots in sabre and took the Top 3 spots in foil.
In addition to the three who advanced to the national championships, top fencers back include Christian Rivera (epee), Jason Paul (sabre), Will Jeter (foil) and Dimitri Kirk-Gordon (foil). Rivera and Paul were contributors as freshmen on Ohio State's 2004 national championship squad.
"Andras is potentially the No. 1 foil fencer in the nation and Mike can also win gold," Nazlymov said. "And this is the last season for Christian so I know he wants to have his best year."
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