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Pair of All-Americans for Duke fencing

Without the luster of a perennial powerhouse such as Notre Dame, the winner of six national team titles, or the luxury of a recruiting program complete with athletic scholarships, the Duke fencing squad, particularly the women's squad, showed that it is a rising power over the weekend at the NCAA Championships held at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

 The two female fencers who partook in the competition--Anne Kercsmar and Ibtihaj Muhammad--who went to the competition earned All-America status after placing in the top-10 in the nation. The pair of freshmen combined for 28 victories, leading the Blue Devils to a 12th place finish.

 "This says a lot [about our program]," head coach Alex Beguinet said. "This was the first time we sent two women, and both finished All-Americans. It will help us to bring stronger fencers to Duke." After the first rounds, which took place Thursday, Kercsmar was in third place in the epee and never looked back.

 In the medal bouts, Kercsmar first faced No. 1 Anna Garina of Wayne State. The score oscillated between the two until Kercsmar stopped to attack, and Garina stopped her twice to take the 15-12 victory. "Anne was mostly on the offensive, and we had taught her mostly the defensive," Beguinet said. "She did very well though."

 In the bronze medal bout, Kercsmar was again the underdog, but she was able to defeat Meghan Phair of Cornell 15-7. Garina went on to defeat 2002 champion Kerry Walton of Notre Dame for this year's title. Muhammad fought to a ninth place finish in the saber with 13 wins to earn her All-America distinction.

 On the men's side, freshman Benjamin Hendricks and junior Nathan Bragg, fencing foil and epee, respectively, represented the Blue Devils over the weekend. Hendricks placed 15th and Hendricks 18th at the conclusion of Sunday's final bouts.

 However, Beguinet said, these finishes were slightly disappointing "I was expecting a lot more from them," Beguinet said. "Both did very well in the season. Nathan was fine, but the second day he didn't compete very well, and got down on himself. It was like a chain reaction."

 Hendricks, who had been seeded No. 1 at regionals, totaled 10 wins on the weekend.

 "Benjamin lost some bouts because people beat him, but he lost three or four because he didn't fence well," Beguinet said. "He did a very good job overall, [though I] thought they would both be in the top 10."

 In team results, Ohio State won the championship ending Notre Dame's two-year winning streak. The title was the first ever for the Buckeyes who recorded 97 wins in both men's and women's competition. Penn State placed second overall after sliding past Notre Dame on the final day of competition. The Nittany Lions, showing incredible consistency, have finished in the top two every year since 1990.

 Despite not being in contention for a high team finish, Beguinet was pleased with the Blue Devils' showing in the meet.  

 "[Sending] four people to nationals was a good thing for Duke," Beguinet said.

 With the conclusion of the season, the Blue Devils are on a hiatus until team practice begins again in the fall.  

 "Every competition we can learn something is a great deal," Beguinet said. "Everybody learned something [and] we ended the season on a very good note."

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