Jan. 11, 2002
If good things come to those who wait, then the Notre Dame fencing teams could be on the verge of adding another memorable chapter to the program’s storied history.
Notre Dame-which won NCAA men’s titles in 1977, ’78 and ’86, followed by the ’87 women’s title and the ’94 combined championship-has come close to adding a sixth title several times in the past seven seasons, with runner-up finishes every year from 1996-2000 (plus third-place showings in 1995 and 2001).
Despite all that history, 2002 already will be unlike any of the previous seasons-as head coach Yves Auriol has announced his plans to retire at the end of the season. Auriol is embarking on his 17th year as the leader of the Irish women’s fencing program and his seventh as the men’s head coach.
With those subplots in place, it would be fitting for the Irish to reclaim the elusive NCAA title-and they certainly have the talent to make another run, with eight All-Americans (junior foilist Forest Walton is studying overseas) and three other NCAA qualifiers forming the core of a deep team that includes three NCAA-caliber fencers at all six weapons. In fact, an assortment of surging veterans and talented newcomers could end up claiming as many as half of the team’s maximum 12 NCAA bids.
“I cannot envision a team having more internal competition at every weapon,” says Auriol, whose men’s team could return atop the national rankings while the women are sure to improve on their No. 5 ranking from a year ago.
“We have addressed our needs and have the chance to be better in every phase. We also were very encouraged by the results of our fencers during fall and winter tournaments. There’s truly an excitement around the program and we can’t wait for the season to begin.”
Two-time junior All-American Ozren Debic returns to captain the men’s foil squad, which includes freshman Derek Snyder and battle-tested senior Steve Mautone. The men’s epee team includes two-time All-Americans in junior captain Jan Viviani and senior Brian Casas, with Poland national team member Michal Sobieraj holding the promise for a stellar freshman season.
Men’s sabre is the team’s most experienced squad, led by fifth-year Andrzej Bednarski (a three-time All-American) and senior All-American Andre Crompton – with junior Matt Fabricant capable of earning his own NCAA spot.
The women’s squad includes new faces at each weapon. Junior Liza Boutsikaris will be looking to match her All-America freshman season while two highly-touted freshmen – Andrea Ament and Poland national teamer Alicja Kryczalo – could give the Irish the nation’s best foil depth. Sophomore Kerry Walton appears poised for a strong debut season at epee, joined by a pair of two-time All-Americans in juniors Anna Carnick and Meagan Call.
Sophomore Maggie Jordan is slated to switch back from foil to sabre, combining with fifth-year captain Carianne McCullough and classmate Destanie Milo to form a talented trio that each could emerge as the top sabre.
The probable 24-fencer travel squad includes eight New Jersey natives and five from Indiana, with the others hailing from six states (California, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon and Ohio), plus Croatia and Poland.
The 2002 schedule includes several tournaments that could challenge the Irish men’s 41-meet winning streak, with defending NCAA champ St. John’s among the five-team field at the NYU Duals (Jan. 27) while Stanford will pose a challenge at the Air Force Duals (Feb. 2) and longtime rival Penn State awaits at the Ohio State Duals (Feb. 9). In addition to those tests, the Irish women will open at the Northwestern Open on Jan. 13 (both teams close at the Feb. 24 Wayne State Duals).
“This schedule should do a great job in preparing us for the NCAAs, by competing in challenging situations,” says Auriol, who was selected by his peers as the 2001 national coach of the year.
“This team has all the makings of a national championship squad, as long as we stay healthy. I’ve truly enjoyed my years here at Notre Dame and have a sense that this could be one of those special seasons.”
Here’s a look at the Irish, by weapon:
Debic (Zagreb, Croatia)-an inspiring success story from his homeland’s limited fencing community-could make another run at the NCAA title, after finishing as the ’99 runner-up and just missing a spot in the 2000 semifinals.
If the rest of his career mirrors Debic’s first two seasons, the two-time All-American could go down as one of the most successful fencers in Notre Dame history. He heads into 2002 with an 84-5 career record and .944 winning percentage, ahead of the Notre Dame men’s foil record set by ’89 graduate Yehuda Kovacs (.930) and third in Irish history among all weapons-behind sabres Leszek Nowoliewski (.980, ?91) and Mike Sullivan (.979, ?79).
“Ozren’s talent is limitless and he’s starting to become a legitimate contender on the international level,” says Auriol of Debic, whose confidence was boosted by several strong showings in the summer of 2001, including a 24th-place finish at the World Championships (he also won the Penn State Open and was 11th at the North American Cup, in Palm Springs).
“Ozren is such a tremendous athlete, with great timing and competitive fire, and he’s the fastest fencer we’ve had in my 17 years at Notre Dame. The scary thing is he still can get better as he continues to learn about college fencing. There are times he needs to slow down his technique to be more effective and he’s starting to develop that understanding.”
Snyder (Chatsworth, Calif.) could be a key factor, as the Irish fill Walton’s All-America position. A product of the Chaminade Prep fencing program, Snyder has been an accomplished foilist and epeeist on the international scene (he headed into 2002 ranked third among U.S. junior foilists, 17th in the U.S. senior/open rankings and also 17th in the world junior rankings).
“Derek is a very technical fencer who is fast with good footwork-now he just has to complete the transition to college fencing,” says Auriol of Snyder, who took fourth at the Penn State Open, finished third and seventh at World Cup events in Europe, and was 10th at the North American Cup.
Mautone (Short Hills, N.J.) likewise could fill Walton’s shoes-in fact, he nearly did just that in 2001 before being edged out by his teammate for Notre Dame’s second NCAA foil spot. The 6-1 Mautone used his quickness and unorthodox style to compile a 109-44 record in his first three seasons (30-13 in 2001).
Senior lefthander Jeremy Beau (Dunedin, Fla.) rounds out the likely travel squad, after winning 18 of 24 foil bouts in 2001 (he placed 12th at last fall’s Northwestern Open).
The women’s foil squad likewise returns just one fencer with NCAA tournament experience, due to Jordan’s switch of weapons.
Boutsikaris (Sparta, NJ) compiled a 54-7 regular season in 2001 (36-8 in 2000) but was unable to reprise her All-America finish at the NCAAs, finishing 16th. But if her fourth-place showing at the Penn State Open is any indication, Boutsikaris could be back on track.
“There are so many things that Liza does well-her quickness, footwork, a great eye for when to attack and an understanding of tactics-so she is very well suited for her leadership role. She’s looking to improve on her distance and spacing, but we’re expecting another great year from Liza,” says Auriol.
Kryczalo (Gdansk, Poland) and Ament (Gates Mill, Ohio) served notice at the Penn State Open, with Kryczalo beating Ament in the title bout. They repeated that dominance at the North American Cup in Palm Springs, with Kryczalo placing third while Ament was sixth.
Ament headed into 2002 in the No. 1 spot of the national rankings for U.S. junior women’s foilists (she’s fourth in the open rankings), with the highest rankings serving as a testament to her lightning quickness, keen sense of timing and distance, and mental toughness. Ament-who also ranks 13th worldwide in the junior division-matches Snyder’s experience at international tournaments, which could help ease her transition.
Kryczalo has similar attributes, with the added benefit of a 6-0 frame that she uses to her advantage. Ranked as high as fourth in the world during the summer of 2001 (among junior women’s foilists), Kryczalo-who typically can hold her own versus the Notre Dame men’s foilists-has been a member of Poland’s national team program since 1998 and is a seven-year veteran of World Championship competition.
“Andrea is such a tremendous athlete who can break the will of her opponents with that quick strike. And Alicja knows how to use her size and reach to her advantage but she also has a fast hand and unique style,” says Auriol.
“Overall, we’re very excited to see how our women’s foil compares with other top teams-there’s no reason it can’t be the best in the nation if we fence to our abilities.”
Senior Michelle Sutton (Orlando, Fla.), a third-year walk-on with a dancing background, rounds out the probable travel squad and should continue her steady improvement, after fencing in 29 foil bouts as a junior.
The women’s epee squad also boasts tremendous depth, with Walton joining the pair of two-time junior All-Americans.
Carnick (Mishawaka, Ind.) could use her new captain role as a spark, after an inconsistent 2001 that included a 53-18 regular-season record and 12th-place NCAA finish. She takes a 94-28 career record into 2002 and had a solid seventh-place showing at the Penn State Open (plus 23rd at the North American Cup).
“Anna had to battle her way into the NCAAs and slipped back in the final standings, but that was a good learning experience. She has tremendous technical ability and we expect her to be a great leader. Anna really could be one of the keys to our season,” says Auriol.
Call (Eugene, Ore.) owns a similar 93-23 career record, including 56-13 in 2001-when she nearly qualified for the NCAA semifinals.
“Meagan is a very clever fencer who never gives up and always is capable of a comeback. She has good footwork and timing but also has that knack for converting her chances at the crucial times,” says Auriol of Call, who was named MVP of the 2001 women’s fencing team.
“She will play an important role in so many ways, including the ability to push her teammates during practice and competitions.
Walton (Londonderry, N.H.) could make an immediate impact, due to international experience that has seen her ranked as high as second among U.S. junior women’s epeeists (fifth in the open division). A complete fencer who combines physicality and quickness, Walton will have to wait one more year to fence alongside her brother Forest but most observers expect the pair to become Notre Dame’s first All-American brother-sister combination.
“We didn’t get to see Kerry at the Penn State Open, as she was busy winning the junior North American Cup, but she has the qualities to be a great college fencer and we’re very excited to add her to the mix,” says Auriol of Walton, who also was seventh at the senior NAC.
Junior Erin Riley (Waldorf, Md.), another walk-on with past training in dancing, completes the projected travel squad, after winning 11 of her 15 epee bouts in 2001.
Viviani (Haworth, N.J.) joins Debic as two of the most successful fencers in Notre Dame history, regardless of weapon. In fact, Viviani’s impressive start (he was third at the 2000 and 2001 NCAAs) makes him one of just three Notre Dame fencers ever to finish among the top three at the NCAAs as a freshman and a sophomore. He also could join Tim Glass (’77) as the second Irish men’s epeeist ever to post three All-America seasons while his 76-11 career record (44-4 in 2001) would rank as the best career winning percentage (.874) among men’s epeeists in Notre Dame history.
“Jan again will be an excellent captain and he certainly has the talent to break through and reach the NCAA final-if anyone deserves that chance, he does,” says Auriol of the eighth-ranked U.S. men’s epeeist (he’s first on that list among college fencers) who finished 13th at the North American Cup.
“Jan reported in excellent shape and had an impressive result by winning the Penn State Open. He has great physical skills and is a driven competitor but he also is a very clever fencer who takes calculated risks. He’s able to fence his best in tough situations, and that’s what it takes to be a champion.”
Casas (Mishawaka, Ind.) also will be aiming for a third All-America honor, after an impressive late-season surge in 2001 that saw him beat Viviani at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships, the Midwest Regional and the NCAAs-where he won eight of his final nine bouts for a seventh-place finish.
“We are hoping that Brian continues his momentum from last season. He is a very knowledgeable fencer with great hand-eye coordination and we look for him to finish with another strong year,” says Auriol of the streaky lefthander, who heads into his final season with a 119-45 career record (40-20 in 2001).
The experience of Viviani and Casas takes some pressure off the freshman Sobieraj (Krakow, Poland), who could find himself in the NCAAs if he continues to develop his expansive talent. A great athlete with a long reach and a powerful 6-2, 185-pound frame, Sobieraj has been a member of Poland’s national team program since 1997 and opened his college career with three impressive results-claiming the gold medal among 100 fencers at the Northwestern Open and finishing second to Viviani at the Penn State Open before reaching the quarterfinals at the challenging North American Cup.
“Michal is a very clever fencer who has the size and speed to be very successful in college tournaments. He has somewhat of an unorthodox style but should have a great year if he is able to harness his emotion and finetune his footwork. We’re very excited to add Michal to an already great epee squad,” says Auriol.
Junior Adam Harvey (Connersville, Ind.) was slated to round out the travel squad but his status is uncertain due to a knee injury in fall practice. Sophomore walk-on Mike Macauley (Temple, Texas) also could see significant action with the epee squad (Harvey won nine of 14 bouts in 2001 while Macauley was 7-4).
Despite multiple options at several weapons, no Notre Dame squad approaches the college experience embedded in the men’s sabre threesome of Bednarski, Crompton and Fabricant-who have combined for 290 wins and just 46 losses (.863) in eight combined seasons with the Irish.
Bednarski (Granger, Ind.) returns for his fifth year (he did not fence in ’99) and already ranks as one of just 11 Notre Dame men’s fencers to earn three-plus All-America honors (see sidebar), with the chance to become the program’s seventh men’s fencer with four All-America finishes (also see p. 45). The lefthanded sabre heads into his final season with a 119-21 career record (26-4 in 2001), with his early-season efforts including a third-place showing at the Northwestern Open and fourth at the Penn State Open.
“Having Andrzej return for his fifth year is a bonus to the program. He has such an attractive style and is so light on his feet-it’s always a treat to watch him fence and we’re glad to get that chance for one more year,” says Auriol of Bednarski, who has honed his skills under the guidance of his father and sixth-year Notre Dame assistant coach Janusz Bednarski.
The imposing Crompton (Irvington, N.J.) will captain the men’s sabre squad while looking to repeat his All-America season, after posting a 43-7 season record (yielding a 108-16 career ledger) followed by a seventh-place finish at the 2001 NCAAs. The 6-1, 220-pound intimidator also has surprising quickness, with his recent results including a silver medal at a summer North American Cup event and the Northwestern Open, plus fifth-place at the Penn State Open and 23rd at the NAC in Palm Springs.
“Andre is such a unique fencer who really can surprise you with how light he is on his feet. He also will be a great motivator and leader for our entire fencing program. He’s so driven to excel and is totally focused on winning the NCAA title, both as a team and as an individual. We know that he’ll go out with another great season,” says Auriol.
Fabricant (Elizabeth, N.J.) – a former teammate of Crompton’s at St. Benedict Prep – appears poised to make his own run at the NCAAs, after posting Notre Dame’s best finish in the men’s sabre competition at the Penn State Open (second) and the North American Cup (16th).
“Matt is a true battler with great technique and athleticism. If he can keep control of his emotions there’s no reason he can’t be one of the best sabres in the Midwest this season,” says Auriol of Fabricant, whose 63-9 career record includes a 40-5 mark in 2001.
Senior walk-on and former high school football player Neal Salisian (Pasadena, Calif.) is expected to round out the travel squad, after posting an 11-8 sabre record in 2001.
The women’s sabre team likewise includes three veterans who each could emerge as the squad’s No. 1 performer.
McCullough (Philadelphia, Pa.) has returned to captain the squad while completing her five-year curriculum as a mathematics and music double-major. An inspiring success story as a former walk-on, McCullough qualified for the postseason during the first two seasons of NCAA women’s sabre competition and now will be looking to close her career with All-America honors. Her 75-20 career record includes a 34-8 ledger in 2001 while her impressive preseason results included winning the Penn State Open and finishing 17th at the North American Cup.
“Cari is a tremendous leader for this program and has worked very hard at developing her fencing. She has shown great improvement in her footwork and timing and had some great results at Penn State and in Palm Springs. It would be great to see her end her career with a memorable season,” says Auriol.
Milo (Knox, Ind.)-who placed fifth at the Northwestern Open and 19th at the North American Cup-could be due for a breakthrough season in 2002, after gaining valuable experience during her 41-11 freshman year (she placed 17th at the 2001 NCAAs) while rising to 40th in the U.S. senior women’s sabre rankings.
“Destanie is such a great athlete and we will look for her to take on an expanded leadership role this season. With her great quickness and fierce competitiveness, she has the makings of becoming an All-American and having a great career at Notre Dame,” says Auriol.
The emotionally-charged Jordan (Maplewood, N.J.) is somewhat of an “x factor” for Notre Dame’s 2002 campaign, making the return to sabre after posting a solid 45-17 record in 2001 foil competition with the Irish (including a 17th-place finish at the NCAAs).
“A year ago, we were looking to replace Magda Krol at foil and Maggie did a great job in that role-but she really is more suited for sabre because of her aggressive style. Combine that with her speed, strength and quick hands, and there’s no reason to think that Maggie won’t make a big impact this season-she really adds to our depth at that weapon,” says Auriol.
Jessie Filkins (Wilmette, Ill.)-an improving talent who battled throughout her freshman season-completes Notre Dame’s trio of sophomore women’s sabres, after winning 28 of her 37 bouts in 2001.
2002 MEN’S CAPSULE
Head Coach: Yves Auriol (Toulouse ’55), 6 years – 143-9 (.941)
Captains (2001 record):
Foil: Ozren Debic, Jr. (42-2)**
Epee: Jan Viviani, Jr. (44-4)**
Sabre: Andre Crompton, Sr. (43-7)*
Other Top Returners (2001 record):
Epee: Brian Casas, Sr. (40-20)*#*
Foil: Steven Mautone, Sr. (30-13)
Jeremy Beau, Sr. (18-6)
Sabre: Andrzej Bednarski, Sr. (26-4)*** … Matt Fabricant, Jr. (40-5)
Top Letterwinners Lost (2001 record):
Epee: Scott Gabler (40-15)
Note: Junior foil All-American Forest Walton is studying overseas in 2001-02
Epee: Michal Sobieraj (Krakow, Poland)
Foil: Derek Snyder (Chatsworth, Calif.)
* All-America, # – NCAAs (non-All-American)
2002 WOMEN’S CAPSULE
Head Coach: Yves Auriol (Toulouse ’55), 16 years – 344-22 (.940)
Captains (2001 record):
Epee: Anna Carnick, Jr. (53-18)**
Sabre:Carianne McCullough, Sr. (34-8)##
Other Top Returners (2001 record):
Epee: Meagan Call, Jr. (56-13)**
Foil: Liza Boutsikaris, Jr. (54-7)*# … Michelle Sutton, Sr. (16-13)
Sabre: Destanie Milo, So. (41-11)# … Jessie Filkins, So. (28-9) … Maggie Jordan, So. (45-7, foil)#
Top Letterwinners Lost (2001 record):
Epee: Kim DeMaio (38-28)
Foil: Tes Salb (19-23)
Sabre: Natalia Mazur (39-9)*
Epee: Kerry Walton, So. (Londonderry, NH)
Foil: Andrea Ament, Fr. (Gates Mill, OH) … Alicja Kryczalo, Fr. (Gdansk, Poland)
* – All-America, # – NCAAs (non-All-American)