March 8, 2005

The Notre Dame fencing team officially has qualified 11 of the maximum 12 fencers for the 2005 NCAA Championships, to be held March 17-20 at the George Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston. Ten Irish fencers essentially clinched their spot on Sunday at the Midwest Regional while sophomore Aaron Adjemian was selected on Monday for one of two at-large spots in the men’s epee field (his classmate Frank Bontempo narrowly missed an at-large spot in foil).

St. John’s is the only team that qualified 12 fencers while Ohio State and Penn State joined Notre Dame with 11 qualifiers. The announcement of the 144-fencer field sets up another four-team battle between the teams that have combined to win the previous 11 NCAA championships (’94-’04) – with each winning in the past four years (St. John’s in ’01, Penn State in ’02, Notre Dame in ’03 and Ohio State in ’04).

Each of the above four teams has a handful of elite fencers and depth at certain weapons to emerge as the potential 2005 NCAA champion. Notre Dame boasts the nation’s top-ranked women’s team and is fourth-ranked in the men’s poll while Ohio State is second in both polls. Penn State sits atop the men’s poll and is third in the women’s poll while St. John’s is third in the men’s poll but just 10th in the women’s rankings.

Bontempo still could be added to the NCAA field as an injury replacement, much as he was for the 2004 NCAAs (when fellow Notre Dame foilist Derek Snyder was unable to compete due to a hand injury).

Notre Dame’s 11 NCAA entrants include eight NCAA veterans who have combined for 15 All-America honors at previous NCAA competitions. Three-time NCAA women’s foil champion Alicja Kryczalo and her classmate Andrea Ament (’02 and ’04 runner-up, third-place in ’03) lead a veteran core that includes two other three-times All-Americans in men’s epeeist Michal Sobieraj (’03 runner-up, third in ’04, 10ht in ’02) and women’s epeeist Kerry Walton (’02 champion, ’04 runner-up, fifth in ’03). Sophomore sabre Valerie Providenza also returners after winning the ’04 NCAA title while her classmates Amy Orlando (epee) and Patrick Ghattas (sabre) were 10th-place finishers at the ’04 NCAAs (sophomore sabre Matt Stearns placed 14th).

Notre Dame’s three fencers who will be making their NCAA debut are accomplished in their own right. Freshman sabre Mariel Zagunis won the 2004 Olympic gold medal while her classmate Jakub Jedrkowiak just tied for first at the Midwest Regional and has posted wins over college fencing’s top fencers throughout the ’04-’05 season. Adjemian also has plenty of clutch wins to his credit and came just shy of qualifying for the NCAAs as a freshman in 2004.

St. John’s has seven NCAA veterans (five of the men’s side) who have combined for 12 All-America finishes.

Ohio State – which qualified just one fencer in women’s epee – also has seven NCAA veterans who own 13 combined All-America finishes while Penn State (one entrant in men’s epee) is sending six NCAA veterans to the ’05 championship (10 combined All-America finishes).

Top fencers from the other contenders include four previous NCAA men’s champions: St. John’s epeeist Arpad Horvath (’02 and ’04; also 6th in ’03), Ohio State sabre Adam Crompton (’03, ’04), Ohio State foilist Boaz Ellis (’04) and Penn State foilist Non Panchan (’02, ’03; also ’01 runner-up). Three others were ’04 NCAA runner-ups: St. John’s epeeist Ben Bratton and sabre Sergey Isayenko (also 4th in ’03) and Penn State sabre Sophie Hiss.

Other NCAA veterans of note include St. John’s men’s foilist Nitai Kfir (3rd at ’04 NCAAs), Ohio State men’s foilist Denis Tolkachev (4th in ’04), Ohio State men’s sabre Jason Rogers (3rd in ’02 and ’03; ’04 Olympian) and Ohio State women’s foilists Hanna (3rd in ’02 and ’04, 6th in ’03) and Metta (5th in ’02-’04) Thompson.