Dec. 22, 2000

The Notre Dame fencing program has produced more than its share of individual and team champions during its glorious history, but the 2001 squad boasts what could prove to be one of the top one-two punches in the program’s 64-years of varsity competition.

Junior sabreman Gabor Szelle (Budapest, Hungary) and sophomore foilist Ozren Debic (Zagreb, Croatia) return to lead Notre Dame in 2001, after dominating efforts last season that placed them near the top of collegiate fencing.

The devastating tandem of Szelle and Debic leads the way for an Irish fencing program that returns 11 of its 12 fencers that qualified for the 2000 NCAA Championship. While four-time All-American Magda Krol will be hard to replace (she fenced epee for three years and foil in 2000), the Notre Dame women return All-Americans at each weapon (four overall, including two epeeists) while the Irish men’s squad includes five former All-Americans (led by two epeeists and two sabremen).

“This team stacks up as another national title contender, because of the experience that we have coming back from last year and simply because of the fact that we have nine fencers who already have proven that they can compete at a high level by earning All-America honors,” says Yves Auriol, now in his sixth year as head coach of both Irish teams after serving the previous 10 seasons as head coach of the Notre Dame women’s program.

“We are particularly strong and deep at men’s epee and sabre and women’s epee, so it could come down to how we perform in the other three weapons during the NCAAs.”

Szelle-who placed second at the 1999 NCAA Championship-combined with rookie Debic at the 2000 NCAAs to become just the fourth set of Notre Dame teammates ever to finish first or second at the same NCAA competition. Szelle captured the sabre championship while Debic finished as runner-up in foil, with freshman Jan Viviani (Haworth, N.J.) posting an equally impressive third-place finish in epee to help the Irish nearly catch Penn State in their annual race for the men’s and women’s combined NCAA championship (Penn State edged Notre Dame, 175-171).

In its storied history, the Irish fencing program has produced a trio of top-three NCAA finishers in the same season just once previously-in 1978, when Mike Sullivan (sabre) and Bjorn Vaggo (epee) captured individual titles while Pat Gerard was the foil runner-up.

That ’78 season gave the Irish the men’s fencing NCAA team title but only Sullivan and Gerard returned for the 1979 season.

In 2001, the Notre Dame men’s squad will return each of its top-three finishers from last year’s NCAA competition, producing an unprecedented happening in the history of Irish fencing.

“With fencers like Gabor, Ozren and Jan leading the way for you at each weapon, of course that puts the team in great position to compete for the NCAA team title this season,” says Auriol.

“They each have different styles of leadership for our team, but first of all you are a leader out there on the fencing strip and they are great leaders for our team in that regard.”

Notre Dame’s fencing triumvirate hails from wide-reaching backgrounds, with Szelle a product of Hungary’s rich fencing tradition while Debic honed his craft in Croatia, where the limited fencing community includes roughly 100 competitors nation-wide. Viviani was born in New York City and has trained at the highly-regarded New York Athletic Club.

Debic’s journey through the fencing subculture has seen him transform from an athletically-gifted 10-year-old who had yet to discover fencing into one of the world’s most highly-regarded young foilists.

“Ozren is a very unusual fencer due to his physical abilities and is the fastest fencer I’ve seen in 15 years at Notre Dame,” says Auriol.

“He does things that I don’t know how he does it, because his speed and timing are very unique. He just has tremendous natural ability and has a great future ahead of him in this sport.”

Debic and Szelle both have proven to be accomplished all-around athletes on the Notre Dame campus, somewhat of a rarity in the fencing circles. “With a lot of fencers, they can just fence. But Ozren and Gabor are great athletes and I’ve seen them play a number of sports at a pretty high level,” says Auriol. “That also shows what great competitors they are.”

Szelle’s dominance on the collegiate level-his 97-5 career record yields the third-best winning percentage in Irish men’s fencing history (.951)-has not come as a surprise to Auriol.

“Gabor has benefitted from excellent coaching and training while growing up in Hungary,” says Auriol. “He is such a sharp and quick fencer, which are traits you don’t usually find in sabre, and has proven to be a championship fencer in the highest regard.”

Notre Dame’s tremendous depth at men’s sabre includes senior Andrzej Bednarski (Granger, Ind.), who Auriol describes as having “the prettiest style I’ve ever seen.” The lightfooted lefthander is the son of Irish assistant coach Janusz Bednarski and earned All-America honors in 1998 and 2000 while compiling a 93-17 career record.

Junior Andre Crompton (Irvington, N.J.) and sophomore Matt Fabricant (Elizabeth, N.J.)-former teammates at St. Benedict Prep-likewise could develop into sabre All-Americans during their Notre Dame careers.

Crompton’s aggressive style and imposing 6-1, 220-pound frame have yielded a 65-9 career record while Fabricant (23-4) is known as a battler with good technique and athleticism.

Debic will captain an Irish foil squad that also returns sophomore Forest Walton (Londonberry, N.H.), a 2000 NCAA qualifier (his 14th-place finish was two spots shy of All-America status) who boasts extensive national-level experience and a powerful style on the fencing strip.

Experienced junior Steve Mautone (Short Hills, N.J., 79-31 career record) and his classmate Jeremy Beau (Dunedin, Fla.) round out Notre Dame’s four-man foil travel squad.

Viviani joined Debic as a freshman phenom in the 2000 season, when his quickness and fierce competitiveness produced a 32-7 pre-NCAA record and eventual first-team All-America honors. Junior Brian Casas (Mishawaka, Ind.)-who achieved All-America status in 1999-will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 18th-place finish at the 2000 NCAAs, with the keys to Casas’ success possibly involving heightened aggressiveness to go along with his strong technique and experience in the sport.

Sophomore North Carey (Los Alamos, N.M.) could use his strength and improving technique to make an impact on the Irish epee squad in 2001 while lefthanded senior Scott Gabler (Chatsworth, Calif.) rounds out the epee squad’s four-man travel squad.

With Debic, Szelle and Viviani headlining a talented and deep men’s squad, Notre Dame likewise could show strides on the women’s side.

The Irish women return an unprecedented four All-Americans, a sophomore group comprised of epeeists Anna Carnick and Meagan Call, Liza Boutzikaris (foil) and Natalia Mazur, who placed 10th at the NCAAs to cap the debut season of women’s sabre.

“We should be stronger in the women’s sabre, with the addition of two strong freshmen in Destanie Milo and Jessie Filkins, and our biggest challenge will be in the foil after losing Magda Krol,” says Auriol, who has watched Notre Dame finish as runnerup to Penn State in each of the past five NCAA Championships.

“Every year we have strengths and weaknesses but this team has a lot of the elements that it takes to be a national champion.”

Carnick (Mishawaka, Ind.) is known for strong technical ability and is coming off a 41-10 freshman season that featured a ninth-place NCAA finish. Call (Eugene, Ore.), who turned in a 37-10 record and 12th-place NCAA showing, has shown strides during her young Irish career and again should be in the running for an NCAA spot.

The women’s epee squad also includes second-year captain Kim DeMaio (Pompton Lakes, N.J.) and promising freshman Kerry Walton (Londonberry, N.H.), whose brother Forest is a starter on the Irish men’s foil squad. Walton is a strong and fast fencer who could develop into one of Notre Dame’s top epeeists as she gains experience and fine-tunes her technique.

Boutsikaris (Sparta, N.J.) is easing into a leadership role with the women’s foil squad, following a 36-18 freshman season and a 12th-place finish in the NCAAs. A talented all-around fencer who combines quickness with solid tactical knowledge, she is one of 10 New Jersey natives on the current Irish roster (eight of whom are members of the four-fencer travel squad at their respective weapons).

Promising freshman Maggie Jordan (Maplewood, N.J.) is a fast and strong newcomer who could develop into a candidate for a spot in the NCAAs while senior Katie Flanagan (North Hills, Pa.)-who posted a 36-13 record in 2000 sabre competition-and junior Michelle Sutton (Orlando, Fla.) round out the Irish women’s foil squad.

The spirited Mazur (Summit, N.J.) burst onto the scene in the inaugural women’s sabre season in 2000, when her physical style and clutch performances led to a dominating 49-4 record and a 10th-place finish in the NCAAs.

Senior Carianne McCullough (Philadelphia, Pa.) will serve as the women’s sabre captain in 2001, after a solid junior season that saw her post a 41-12 record and advance to the NCAAs.

Filkins (Wilmette, Ill.) and Milo (Knox, Ind.) could develop into NCAA-caliber performers in the sabre competition. Filkins is known as a battler who could make big strides as she develops her technique in the college game while Milo is a product of the nearby Indiana Fencing Academy who is known for her quickness and fierce competitiveness.

As the Irish fencing program heads into yet another promising season, the hope for Notre Dame’s first fencing national championship since 1994 remains well within the team’s sights.

“One thing that people often forget about when it comes to having experience is that so many of our fencers know the feeling of coming close to winning the national championship … but coming up just short,” says Auriol.

“If this team performs to its potential, we should be there competing for the national title again. Hopefully, this is the year that we break through.”

2001 Men’s Capsule

Head Coach: Yves Auriol (Toulouse ’55)
Notre Dame career record (5 years)- 118-9 (.929)

Captains (2000 record):
Foil: Ozren Debic, So. (42-3)*
Epee: Jan Viviani, So. (32-7)*

Other Returners (2000 record):
Brian Casas, Jr. (35-11)*-’99
Scott Gabler, Sr. (11-2)
Forest Walton, So. (34-7)#
Steven Mautone, Jr. (34-14)
Jeremy Beau, Jr. (11-2)
Gabor Szelle, Jr. (41-3)**
Andrzej Bednarski, Sr. (40-7)**
Andre Crompton, Jr. (28-6)
Matt Fabricant, So. (23-4)

Top Letterwinners Lost (2000 record):
James Gaither (25-17),
Steve Kane (8-2)
James Harris (10-2)
Clay Morton (12-4)

Top Newcomers:

North Carey, So.

* – All-America honors
# – NCAA participant (non-All-American)

2001 Women’s Capsule

Head Coach: Yves Auriol (Toulouse ’55)
Notre Dame career record (15 years) – 323-18 (.947)

Captains (2000 record):
Kim DeMaio, Sr. (12-9 in 2000)
Carianne McCullough, Sr. (41-12)#

Other Returners (2000 record):
Anna Carnick, So. (41-10)*
Meagan Call, So. (37-10)*
Liza Boutsikaris, So. (36-8)*
Michelle Sutton, Jr. (8-4)
Katie Flanagan, Sr. (36-13, sabre)
Sabre: Natalia Mazur, So. (49-4)*

Top Letterwinners Lost (2000 record):
Kiersten Ferguson (17-20)
Magda Krol (33-7), Kelly Orsi (17-6)

Top Newcomers:

Kerry Walton, Fr.
Maggie Jordan, Fr.
Destanie Milo, Fr.
Jessie Filkins, Fr.

* – All-American
# – NCAA participant (non-All-American)