Jan. 21, 2006

Despite losing three of their six competitors from the 2005 NCAA championship team (foilists Alicja Kryczalo and Andrea Ament and epeeist Kerry Walton), the Notre Dame women’s fencing team has earned the No. 1 spot in the first U.S. Fencing Coaches Association poll (with the ND men listed No. 2). Notre Dame owns the best combined poll standing, followed by Ohio State (#1 men, #4 women), Penn State (#2 women, #3 men), Columbia (#3 women, #5 men), Harvard (#4 men, #5 women), St. John’s (#6 men and women) and Princeton (#7 men, #9 women). Four of the six teams listed above – ND, OSU, Columbia and SJU – will be in action this week at the NYU Duals, as the Irish will have plenty of early tests to start the 2006 season.

Here’s a capsule look at Notre Dame and the other six teams with the best chance to be in the mix for the 2006 NCAA combined fencing title:

NOTRE DAME – The Irish return seven competitors (six All-Americans) from the 2005 NCAA championship squad: junior sabre fencers Mariel Zagunis (1st), Patrick Ghattas (2nd), Valerie Providenza (4th) and Matt Stearns (10th), junior epeeists Amy Orlando (2nd) and Aaron Adjemian (24th) and sophomore foilist Jakub Jedrkowiak (7th) … ND junior foilist Frank Bontempo and junior sabre Angela Vincent also have NCAA Tournament experience, competing at the ’04 event … ND must replace four of the program’s top all-time fencers: three-time NCAA foil champion (and ’05 runner-up) Alicja Kryczalo, fellow four-time All-America foilist Andrea Ament (the ’02 and ’04 NCAA runner-up), four-time epee All-American and ’05 NCAA champ Michal Sobieraj (also ’03 runner-up), and three-time women’s epee All-American Kerry Walton (the ’02 NCAA champ and ’04 runner-up) … other top members of ND’s 2006 women’s team include: fifth-year epeeist Becca Chimahusky, freshman epeeists Kim Montoya (#16 in the USFA under-21 rankings) and Madeleine Stephan (a German youth standout), junior foilist Melanie Bautista and freshman foilists Adrienne Nott (#9 in the USFA u-21 rankings) and Emilie Prot (#39 in the USFA u-21s) … other key members of the ND men’s team include freshman sabre standout Bill Thanhouser (currently #1 in the USFA u-21 rankings), sophomore epee captain Greg Howard, freshman epeeist Karol Kostka (who joined the Irish with a #20 world u-21 rankings) and freshman foilist Mark Kubik (#14 in the USFA u-21 rankings) … both ND teams opened 6-0 at the Northwestern Duals, with key wins for the men over Stanford, North Carolina and Cal State Fullerton (the Irish women also beat those teams, plus their regional rival Northwestern).

OHIO STATE – Like the Irish, OSU’s biggest losses are in women’s foil – as four-time All-Americans and twin sisters Hanna (6th at ’05 NCAAs) and Metta (10th) Thompson have moved on to graduation … OSU still returns nine members of its ’05 NCAA runner-up squad (eight All-Americans), led on the men’s side by two-time NCAA men’s foil champ Boaz Ellis, three-time All-America sabreist Adam Crompton (two-time NCAA champ, 7th in ’05), his fellow senior sabre standout and 2004 U.S. Olympian Jason Rogers (5th at ’05 NCAAs) and junior epeeist Denis Tolkachev (4th at ’05 NCAAs, 3rd in ’04) … other NCAA men’s veterans for OSU include junior foilist Christian Rivera (12th) and sophomore foilist Will Jeter (14th) … OSU has plenty of options at women’s sabre, led by sophomores Siobahn Byrne (3rd at ’05 NCAAs), Amelia Galliard (7th) and Eileen Grench (#10 in USFA rankings) … junior epeeist Kaela Brendler (5th at ’05 NCAAs) also returns, as does senior epeeist Marguerite Plekhanov (a converted sabre fencer who competed in that weapon at the ’03 and ’04 NCAAs) … OSU has several others who could step into greater roles, including: freshmen foilists Andras Horanyi (#4 in USFA rankings) and Dmitri Kirk-Gordon (#26), freshman sabre Mike Montselidze (#7), junior sabre Jason Paul (#28; All-American at ’04 NCAAs), senior foilist Alexandra DiCerbo, sophomore foilist Byrony Beard, freshman foilist Allison Rush, sophomore epeeists Olga Obrazcova (injured in ’05) and Leslie Lampman, and junior sabre veteran Syvenna Siebert.

PENN STATE – PSU welcomes back nine of the 11 fencers (five All-Americans) from its fourth-place team at the ’05 NCAAs: sophomore sabreist Franz Boghicev (top ’05 NCAA round-robin record, finished 4th), junior sabre standout Sophie Hiss (5th; also ’04 NCAA runner-up), sophomore epeeist Arthur Urman (8th), junior epeeist Case Szarwark (9th), sophomore foilist Jeff Chang (11th), junior sabreist Ian Farr (13th; also ’04 All-American), senior foilist Anna Donath (14th; two-time All-American), senior epeeist Andrea Wine (20th) and junior sabreist Laura Hillstrom (22nd) … PSU has several others with NCAA Tournament experience, including junior epeeist Katarzyna Trzopek (the ’04 NCAA champ who missed the ’05 NCAAs due to a broken leg), senior sabre veteran Marten Zagunis (a ’03 and ’04 All-American and brother of ND’s Mariel Zagunis) and senior foilist Chris Miller … the PSU men also return junior men’s sabreist Axel Reblewski and the epee tandem of sophomore Dennis Draft and junior Kevin King … the women’s sabre squad should get a boost from freshman Caitlin Thompson and also will look for key bouts from junior foilist Tamara Najm … PSU’s only losses from its 2005 NCAA team are foilist Non Panchan (a two-time NCAA champ) and fellow four-time All-America foilist Meredith Chin … the PSU women have opened 5-0 (beating Harvard, Princeton, UNC, NYU and Rutgers) while the men are 4-1, with a 13-14 loss to Harvard.

COLUMBIA – Columbia had a solid 5th-place showing at the ’05 NCAAs and returns seven of its 10 competitors (six All-Americans) from that NCAA squad … top returners for Columbia include: the sabre tandem of sophomore Emily Jacobson (’05 NCAA champ and U.S. national-team member) and senior three-time All-American Emma Barratta (8th at ’05 NCAAs), sophomore epeeist Morgan Midgley (3rd at ’05 NCAAs), junior epeeist Cassidy Luitjen (11th), junior sabre standout Krul (6th) and junior foilist Scott Sugimoto (6th) … senior epee veteran Bill Verigan also returns after competing in the ’05 NCAAs (23rd) … the Lions will be looking to overcome the absence of epeeist Alexie Rubin (12th at ’05 NCAAs), who is studying overseas … Columbia’s other losses from the ’05 NCAA team include sabre fencer Paul Reyfman (9th) and foilist Jeremy Sinkin (15th) … the Columbia women are looking to get key contributions from senior sabreist Christian Robinson, junior foilist Kathleen Reckling, sophomore foilist Magda Losonczy and junior epeeist Rachel Rowe while the men look for a boost from senior foilist Luka Lazia and sabre fencers such as junior James Williams and sophomore Alex Diacou (brother of ND senior Nicholas Diacou).

HARVARD – The Crimson return all 10 of their competitors (seven of them All-Americans) from the 6th-place team at the ’05 NCAAs: sophomore foilist Emily Cross (’05 NCAA champ), junior Tim Hagamen in sabre (3rd), senior epeeists Julian Rose (6th) and Benji Ungar (7th), sophomore sabreist Caroline Wright (6th), junior foilist Jasmine McGlade (7th), senior sabre veteran David Jakus (12th), sabre sophomore Alexa Weingarden (14th), senior epeeist Chloe Stinetorf (17th) and junior foilist Enoch Woodhouse (19th) … Harvard also returns senior foilists Anne Austin and could get a lift from freshman epeeist Maria Larsson … the Harvard men opened 4-0 with wins over Penn State (14-13), NYU, UNC and Rutgers while the women were 3-1 with a 15-12 loss to PSU.

ST. JOHN’S – The Red Storm were the only team to qualify the maximum 12 fencers for the ’05 NCAAs (finishing third) but five of those fencers have departed, including: ’05 NCAA sabre champ Sergey Isayenko, former NCAA foil champ Horvath (5th in ’05), the foil tandem of Nitai Kfir (5th) and Henry Kennard (13th) and women’s sabre All-American Christina Crane (10th) … the only men’s fencers returning from SJU’s ’05 NCAA team are junior epeeist Benjamin Bratton (10th in ’05; ’04 NCAA runner-up) and junior sabreist Nijmy Cadet (17th) … SJU’s five women’s fencers who are back from the ’05 NCAAs include three All-Americans: junior foilist Erzberet Garay (4th at ’05 NCAAs), sophomore epeeist Joanna Guy (10th) and senior Kasia Wiernoski in sabre (12th) … other ’05 NCAA returners include sophomore foilist Katia Larchanks (13th) and sophomore epeeist Reka Szele (13th) … SJU will be hoping for a boost in men’s epee from freshman Stanley Vaksman and junior Adam Rodney while others who could fill expanded roles include sophomore sabre standout Luther Clement (a transfer from Columbia), sophomore women’s foilist Chenzi Zhang and freshman sabreists Olga Outchinnkava and Elizabeth Gray … the SJU women dropped a 15-12 match to Yale at the recent Brandeis Invitational while the men topped Yale (19-8).

PRINCETON – The Tigers could have been in the mix at the ’05 NCAAs but did not qualify any fencers in men’s or women’s sabre … Princeton does return five of its six competitors from the ’05 team that placed 8th at the NCAAs (all but Olympic epeeist Soren Thompson, who placed 3rd at the ’05 NCAAs) … those returners include: senior foilist Jacqueline Leahy (3rd), junior epeeist Erin McGarry (6th), senior epeeist Ben Solomon (9th), junior foilist Alejandro Bras (18th) and senior epeeist Kira Hohonsee (24th) … the Princeton men will look for added contributions from sophomores Tommi Hurme (epee) and Douglas Hohonsee (foil) and the sabre pair of senior Owen Cornwall and junior Joseph Cho … junior foilist Sara Jew-Lim adds experience to the women’s lineup, as do junior Elan DiMaio and senior Caroline Black in sabre … both Princeton teams have posted wins in ’05-’06 over UNC, NYU and Rutgers but each lost to Penn State (12-15 men, 9-18 women).

U.S. Fencing Coaches Association Poll (Jan. 18, 2006)

1. Ohio State
2. Notre Dame
3. Penn State
4. Harvard
5. Columbia
6. St. John’s (NY)
7. Princeton
8. Pennsylvania
9. Stanford
10. Duke
Others receiving votes: Air Force, Rutgers, Brown, NYU, Yale, North Carolina, UC-San Diego, Wayne State (MI), Brandeis, Cleveland State

1. Notre Dame
2. Penn State
3. Columbia-Barnard
4. Ohio State
5. Harvard
6. St. John’s (NY)
7. Northwestern
8. Yale
9. Pennsylvania
9. Princeton
Others receiving votes: Stanford, Wayne State (MI), Temple, Duke, UC-San Diego, Air Force, NYU, Rutgers, North Carolina, Brown