January 5, 1999
One of the most successful athletic programs at the University of Notre Dame is primed for another top season.
The history of the Notre Dame fencing team is quite distinguished, claiming five national championships and posting 149 All-Americans. The long list of All-Americans is the most by any sport at Notre Dame.
Returning seven of eight All-Americans from the 1998 squad places the Irish as one of the top teams in the country for the 1999 season.
“Our goal this year is the same as last year, winning the national championship,” said men’s and women’s head fencing coach Yves Auriol. “We still have a team that is capable of doing it. This coming year we have a squad that will be as good as we were last year and winning the championship will be our goal.”
For this present Irish team the national championship is one of the few goals it has not achieved. The last time the Irish were victorious at the NCAA championships was in 1994 in Waltham, Mass., at Brandeis. Since that championship run the Irish have finished third in 1995 and second in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
“At the first team meeting this year I told the team that this senior class deserves the national championship,” says Auriol. “We’ve been so close the past three years, so they really deserve it, I would like to win the championship just for these people. This is the year we have to do it.”
The current senior class has seven members who have earned monograms in each of their first three years. Stephane Auriol, Carl Jackson, Luke LaValle, Myriah Brown, Nicole Mustilli, Nicole Paulina and Sara Walsh have collectively earned 12 All-America certificates, four Midwest individual championships and one NCAA individual championship. These seven fencers have combined to win 1,180 bouts against 204 losses for a .853 winning percentage.
These seniors may have gained personal praises, but they are now focused on team glory. Their individual accomplishments place a very distant second behind the goal of winning a national championship.
“I’m not here to leave any personal mark,” says LaValle, the 1998 NCAA sabre champion. “I want to help this team get a team NCAA championship, that’s what we are all here for and this is our last year and I hope we can get it.”
“My hope is that the team will come together at the end of the season and we will be able claim the championship that has escaped us,” says three-time All-American senior foilist Sara Walsh.
With the exceptionally experienced senior class and a strong group of underclassmen the Irish are poised to attack their goal of winning the national championship. The Irish have depth in every weapon, but the greatest depth is found in men’s sabre.
“This year’s team is probably the best sabre team this school has ever had,” says LaValle. “The talent goes far deeper than three. It is a great training squad so everyone is going to get better and this makes me look forward to competing on the strip this year.”
Along with LaValle the sabre team has letter winners Andrzej Bednarski and Stephen McQuade. Bednarski, a sophomore, gained All-America honors in 1998 and led all Irish men in victories last season with 53. McQuade, a senior, has steadily improved during the last three years and will add veteran leadership to this squad. Freshman sabrists Andre Crompton and Gabor Szelle will step in and have an immediate impact for the team.
The men’s epee squad has the tough task of replacing Brian Stone, who was an All-American and captain in 1998. The Irish will look to senior Tim Monahan to take on the leadership role as captain. Monahan, who started his fencing career in physical education class, has high hopes for himself and the men’s epee squad.
“It took a lot of hard work to become a captain, but I feel it’s good for me because I know where the guys, who were in gym class and are on the team now, are coming from,” says Monahan. “I can help them better than some of the other fencers because I know their experiences very well.
“As far as the epee team as a whole, we’re expected to go out and get every touch and win every bout that we can. We lost Brian Stone and that hurt us, but we have a strong team with the addition of freshman Brian Casas. We’re expected to win and beat every opponent we come across, the expectations are high for this team, but I feel we can follow through with our best.”
Filling the void left by Stone will be a combined effort from Monahan, Casas and Andrew Metrailer. Though the squad lost Stone it can rely on consistent production from Jackson.
“He (Jackson) is essential to the team. He gives a calm and steady presence,” says Monahan. “He’s a two-time All-American, we know he has the skill and the ability.”
Another piece to the Irish forming their championship puzzle is the men’s foil team. Auriol, the coach’s son, returns for his second straight year as captain of the squad. Along with Auriol, Charles Hayes is the top returnee for the men’s foilists. In each of his first two seasons Hayes has been on the fringe of breakout seasons, but thus far he has been unable to compete in the NCAA championships.
“I think he (Hayes) is ready to step up,” says captain Auriol. “He’s been in the position to make the NCAAs the last two years and he has fallen short. Mentally he might have been lacking focus, but now he has got the needed confidence and he knows his role on the team. We need him or there is no shot for this team to go anywhere.”
Registering a 6-17 record, Auriol had a disappointing showing at the 1998 NCAA championships. With the Irish placing second by only three bouts, Auriol has not stopped thinking about his lackluster performance. The thoughts that have plagued him also have enabled him to work hard in the offseason.
“I worked hard on my conditioning, and I tried to get in better physical shape. I lost weight and then just practiced hard all summer. I did a lot of running, speed drills and ate right and ate well, watching my diet,” says Auriol who has taken all carbohydrates out of his diet.
“I haven’t stopped thinking about the NCAAs since last year, it’s something that started my losing weight and started my working so hard and it’s going to motivate me throughout the year,” says Stephane Auriol. “I did all this for myself and for my teammates because I feel like I let them down last year.”
The women’s teams are the other part of the Irish fencing equation. With All-Americans Brown, Mustilli, Walsh and Krol the women’s squad looks to be as strong as ever.
The women’s epee squad possesses a great one-two punch in Mustilli and Krol. Mustilli is coming off of her best season in which her 69 victories led the Irish in wins. Krol is an internationally experienced fencer who won the NCAA individual women’s epee championship in 1997. Assisting the efforts of Mustilli and Krol will be senior Michelle Marafino and sophomores Kimberly DeMaio and Kiersten Ferguson.
Mustilli is approaching this season as a captain and as an individual. She is determined to reach team and personal goals.
“I’ve been on the team three years and two things have eluded us, an undefeated season and a national championship, so those are our main goals this season,” says Mustilli. “My job as a captain is to keep the girls working and motivated toward achieving those goals.
“This season I’m looking to improve even more and become a national champion. The biggest part of my improvement last year was my desire to become an All-American and once I achieved that my goal changed to a higher one for this season,” says the women’s epee captain.
The women’s foil team has been a dominant force for the last three seasons and this year should prove to be no different. Paulina has taken over Brown’s spot as captain and this has been a help to the team.
“I am very happy that I can put all of my energy into my fencing this season,” said Brown.
“I’ve had to step up into a leadership role this year,” said Paulina. “With Myriah and Sara it has been very helpful because they know so much about the sport that they can help me. Also they are role models, somebody for the younger fencers to look up to.”
For the dynamic duo of Brown and Walsh, they are expected to produce the same results they have yielded since their freshman year. Walsh ranks second in women’s career winning percentage and Brown needs only 29 victories to become the all-time winningest fencer in Notre Dame history.
“I haven’t really thought about it (becoming the all-time winningest fencer in school history) at all,” says Brown. “That would be an added bonus to being an All-American and participating in the NCAA championships.”
Brown epitomizes the team-first attitude of this Irish team. Individual accomplishments do not compare to the goal of winning the NCAA championship.
“In 1994 we traveled to Brandeis and we won, maybe it is good luck to be going back there, maybe we’ll have the same type of performance,” says coach Auriol. “This is the time to win, we are preparing for that and the seniors deserve it.”