March 26, 2000

STANFORD, Calif. — The Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing teams fell short in their rally to win the 2000 NCAA combined men’s and women’s fencing championship as they finished tied for second with St. John’s with 171 points, while Penn State edged the two with 175 points at Stanford University. Irish sophomore Gabor Szelle won the men’s sabre title with a 15-12 win over Wayne State’s Jakub Krochmalski in the championship bout. Irish freshman Ozren Debic lost the men’s foil final 15-10 to Stanford’s Felix Reichling, who won the title for the second consecutive year. Freshmen Jan Viviani placed third in men’s epee.

The Irish trailed Penn State by 26 points and stood in fourth place after the conclusion of the women’s portion of the championship Thursday and Friday but made up 15 points on Saturday and trailed the Lions by just 11 entering the second day of the men’s competition and final day of the championship on Sunday. Notre Dame also trailed St. John’s by two points after Saturday and were able to tie the Red Storm on Sunday but could not catch Penn State, which won its sixth straight NCAA title, while Notre Dame finished second for the sixth consecutive year.

Szelle, who lost to St. John’s Keeth Smart in the 1999 NCAA men’s sabre title bout as a freshman, came back as a sophomore and went 20-3 during the round-robin competition to place first. He then beat St. John’s Ivan Lee in the semifinals and Krochmalski in the championship bout, both by 15-12 scores. Szelle had lost to Krochmalski during the round-robin competition and in a fence off for the Midwest Regional Championship but had beaten him during the round-robin portion of the Midwest Regional Championship and in the Midwest Fencing Conference Team Championship before winning their final meeting of the season. He becomes the first Irish NCAA fencing champion in any weapon and the second Irish fencer to win the NCAA men’s sabre championship in two years after Luke LaValle won Notre Dame’s first NCAA sabre title in 20 years in 1998.

Junior sabreman Andrzej Bednarski — in his first NCAA appearance since finishing 11th as a freshman in 1998 — placed fifth with a 17-6 record to join Szelle in earning All-America honors. He finished with a 10-4 record on Saturday and went 7-2 on Sunday to move from eighth place to fifth.

Debic finished second during the round robin with a 20-3 record after a 9-0 performance on Sunday, including a pair of 5-4 wins against Penn State. He beat Yale’s Ayo Griffin 15-8 in the semifinals before falling 15-10 to Reichling in the championship bout. Debic’s second-place finish marks the highest for an Irish men’s foilist since Noel Young took second in 1991. Notre Dame last NCAA men’s foil champion was Charles Higgs-Coulthard in 1984. Freshman foilist Forest Walton finished 13-10 to place 14th.

Viviani finished the round robin with a 17-5 record after going 7-2 on Sunday to place fourth. He lost a tight 7-6 semifinal bout to St. John’s defending champion Alex Roytblat before returning to beat St. John’s Doron Levit 15-12 to take third place. Viviani’s third-place finish marks the highest for an Irish men’s epeeist since Jubba Beshin took second and David Calderhead was third in 1991. Sophomore Brian Casas was 18th with nine wins.

Notre Dame concluded the four-day championship with nine of its 12 fencers earning All-America honors. Debic, Szelle and Viviani each earned first-team honors — marking the first time since 1991 the Irish have had first-team All-Americans in each men’s weapon — while Bednarski was a second-team selection. On the women’s side, senior Magda Krol earned second-team honors in foil after taking home first-team epee honors and twice making the second team in epee in her three previous appearances. Four freshmen, epeeists Anna Carnick and Meagan Call, foilist Liza Boutsikaris and sabre Natalia Mazur, were third-team selections. Mazur became the first Irish women’s sabre All-American as this marked the first year of NCAA women’s sabre competition.