March 26, 2004
WALTHAM, Mass. – The top-ranked Notre Dame women’s fencing squad became the first team ever to send a fencer to the finals in all three women’s weapons, capping Friday’s continuing action at the NCAA combined fencing championships. Junior Alicja Kryczalo (Gdansk, Poland) won the women’s foil title for the third straight year while freshman Valerie Providenza (Beaverton, Ore.) captured the gold medal in sabre, with junior epeeist Andrea Ament (Gates Mill, Ohio) and senior foilist Kerry Walton (Londonderry, N.H.) each adding runner-up finishes. The tournament concludes over the weekend at Brandeis University’s Gosman Center, with the men’s bouts slated for Saturday and Sunday.
Kryczalo becomes the first Notre Dame student-athlete ever to be a three-time NCAA champion (or three-time player of the year) while her domination of collegiate fencing now includes a 284-20 overall record (.934) in bouts as a member of the Notre Dame program. That three-year run spans a 128-10 regular-season record, a 47-1 record as the two-time Midwest Fencing Conference champion and one-time runner-up, three-time Midwest Regional titles (40-3) and her 69-6 wizardry at the NCAAs (not to mention three titles at the prestigious Penn State Open, in the falls of ’01-’03).
Providenza joins Kryczalo as one of five all-time Notre Dame fencers ever to win the NCAA title as a freshman. She is the first ND fencer (men’s or women’s) to win the NCAAs as a freshman, with the program’s other freshman champions including men’s epeeist Bjorn Vaggo (’78) and foilist Charles Higgs-Coulthard (’84) and women’s foilist Magda Krol (’97).
Ohio State surged ahead of Notre Dame in the team standings (97-96) after Friday’s action completed the final nine bouts of the women’s competition, with Penn State still in third after totaling 84 women’s victories. The Irish then sent four fencers on to the individual semifinals (those bouts do not count to the team total), with each fencer winning a one-touch decision in moving on to their respective title bouts.
Notre Dame (96-40/.706) actually owns a better winning percentage than Ohio State (97-41/.703), due to the withdrawal of St. John’s All-American Julia Gelman (who fenced just nine bouts on Thursday before leaving due to injury). Gelman’s remaining matches were vacated but forfeits were not awarded to the opponents, per the official rules for the NCAA Fencing Championship (Gelman earlier had split her bouts vs. OSU, with all of her completed bouts remaining in the standings and thus creating an unequal number of total bouts for ND and OSU).
Kryczalo – just the second Division I women’s fencer ever to win three-plus NCAA titles, with seven men also completing that feat – went 8-1 on Friday to finish atop the foil round-robin standings (21-2) while Ament was third at 19-4. Kryczalo then rallied to beat Princeton’s Jacqueline Leahy in a 15-14 semifinal (avenging a 5-4 loss from earlier in the day) while Ament survived a rare overtime foil bout, staging her own comeback from a 5-1 deficit to beat regional rival Hanna Thompson of Ohio State (7-6).
Valerie Providenza is Notre Dame’s first sabre fencer (men’s or women’s) ever to win the NCAA title as a freshman.
A rematch of the 2002 NCAA final saw Kryczalo again beat Ament, 15-7, yielding a three-year NCAA record of 69-6 for Kryczalo. She joins former Penn State star Olga Kalinovskaya (’93-’96 foil champ) as the only Division I women’s fencers ever to win three-plus NCAA titles. Seven men’s fencers also have claimed three-plus NCAA titles, including four-time saber champ Michael Lofton (NYU, ’84-’87).
Providenza had an up-and-down second day (5-3) before finishing third in the sabre rankings, at 18-4. She also faced a familiar rival – OSU’s Louise Bond-Williams – in the semifinals and overcame a 10-13 deficit to post her own 15-14 win. The final victory came much easier, in a 15-8 decision over upstart and converted foil fencer Sophia Hiss of Penn State.
Walton nearly reclaimed the NCAA epee title she won in 2002 but the three-time All-American dropped a 15-10 final versus Wayne State newcomer and Ukranian national Anna Garina. Walton’s tight semifinal produced a 9-8 overtime win over Cornell’s Meghan Phair, after going 5-4 on Friday to finish second in the round-robin (17-6).
Freshman Amy Orlando earned All-America honors with her 10th-place epee finish.
Freshman Amy Orlando (whose family now resides in nearby Brookline, Mass.) closed with a 4-5 record to finish 10th in the epee competition (13-10), good for All-America honors. Her classmate Angela Vincent (Lake Oswego, Ore.) rounded out the Notre Dame contingent by posting an 8-15 record in the sabre bouts (3-6 on Friday).
Notre Dame faces a stiff challenge in looking to stay with Ohio State and hold off Penn State, as the Irish qualified just five fencers for the men’s competition while OSU and PSU have the maximum six. The Irish also have a change in their lineup as junior foilist Derek Snyder has been scratched due to a broken bone in his hand, suffered during midweek practice. Freshman Frank Bontempo will rotate into Snyder’s spot, with the Irish looking to make up for the absence of one of the foil field’s top contenders (Snyder placed seventh at the 2002 NCAAs and then fifth in ’03).
Junior foilist Andrea Ament posted her second NCAA runner-up finish, to go along with a third-place finish as a member of the 2003 national championship team.
Ament’s career NCAA record now is 63-12 (.840), with Kryczalo and Ament’s combined NCAA dominance as the “A Team” (Alicja and Andrea) now including a 132-18 record in all NCAA bouts (.880). Walton – who has the option of applying for a fifth year of eligibility in 2004-05 – is 51-20 in her three NCAA appearances, in the more unpredictable weapon of epee.
Notre Dame now has totaled eight women’s finalists in the last three years, with Penn State (4) managing just half that total (plus two from St. John’s and one each from Ohio State, Rutgers, Yale and Wayne State).
The 96 wins nearly matched the ND women’s total from the 2002 NCAAs (97) and are eight more than the ’03 women contributed to that NCAA championship season. Since women’s sabre made its NCAA debut five years ago, the Irish women have averaged 84 wins at the NCAAs (also 75 in 2000 and 61 in ’01).
The addition of Providenza and Orlando gives the Notre Dame program a total of 27 freshmen who have earned All-America honors, including 14 women (8 foil, 4 epee, 2 sabre).
Senior Kerry Walton returned to the NCAA epee final but came up one win shy of reclaiming the NCAA title she won in 2002.
Just six all-time Notre Dame women’s fencers have finished from 1st-5th at three-plus NCAAs – and three of them (Kryczalo, Ament and Walton) were in action this week (Walton was 5th and Ament 3rd in ’03). The others on that elite list include foilists Molly Sullivan (1st in ’86 and ’88, 3rd in ’87, 5th in ’85), Heidi Piper (1st in ’91, 2nd in ’90, 4th in ’92) and Sara Walsh (2nd in ’96, ’97, 3rd in ’98, 5th in ’99).
The Notre Dame cheering section – which includes many reserve members of the team who made their way to the Boston area – also included former women’s foil captain Dinamarie “Didi” Garcia (’94), who was on hand with her husband (the couple lives in Boston). In addition to watching Notre Dame’s impressive three-sport display, Garcia also experienced moments of nostalgia as the Gosman Center was the site of Notre Dame’s 1994 national championship.
Here’s a closer look at Friday’s action in each of the women’s weapons:
Alicja Kryczalo and Andrea Ament continued their dominance of the NCAA foil competition and now have combined for a 132-18 record in three NCAA appearances.
Round-Robin Notes – The top round-robin records belonged to Kryczalo (21-2), OSU’s Thompson (20-3), Ament (19-4) and Princeton’s Leahy (18-5) … Ament scored a key comeback to thwart the upset bid of Yale’s Alisa Mendelsohn (5-4; down 0-3, 2-4) … Ament beat Leahy in the round-robin while Kryczalo overcame a 3-0 deficit before losing 5-4 … ND closed vs. Midwest rivals Julia Foldi and Jessica Florendo of Northwestern and Stanford’s Eva Petschnigg, who won the 2000 NCAA title while at Princeton … the ND duo swept the 8th-place finsher Foldi (both 5-2) and Florendo (Ament 5-0, Kryczalo 5-1) while Kryczalo bested the lefthanded Petschnigg 5-2 (Ament lost, 4-5).
Semifinal #1 – Kryczalo avenged her round-robin loss to the lefthanded Leahy (4-5, repeating Leahy’s win from the ’03 NCAAs) … Kryczalo trailed 11-9 and pushed Leahy back with the score 11-10 but lost the point before getting the next touch in the same scenario for a 12-11 score … Kryczalo then jumped in celebration after a counter riposte tied the score (12-12) before taking the lead on an attack and riposte and going up 14-12 after pulling back for a key touch … rushed preparation and a low miss allowed Leahy to tie the score but Kryczalo scored the winner on a shoulder attack (15-14).
Semifinal #2 – Ament won the first point in her semifinal with the lefthanded Thompson, who then opted to sit back in epee-like fashion … Ament took the initiative after two minutes and Thompson countered for a 1-1 scored before the first break … four more counters gave Thompson the 5-1 lead before Ament shortened the distance and landed three touches for a 6-4 deficit … the bout went to 6-6 and headed to overtime, with Ament converting a straight attack for the winning point.
Final – Kryczalo jumped to a 2-0 lead after a parry riposte but Ament converted on preparation for a 2-2 score … Ament later forged a 4-4 tie on a flick to the back but lost the next five points, two coming in preparation and one when Kryczalo held the line (9-4) … the lead grew to 12-5 coming out of the break, after a Kryczalo beat-attack … an Ament riposte cut the lead to 12-7 but the 6-foot Kryczalo used her reach for the next point and scored on a one-touch to cap the championship.
Alicja Kryczalo avenged a round-robin loss to Princeton’s Jacqueline Leahy in a 15-14 semifinal thriller.
Kryczalo Quotes – “In the first bout versus Leahy, I tried to not let her push me to the back of the strip but she still did it. I was not fencing well and she has that very nervous style. I needed to be calmer and it was hard to get the touch on her. She was defending everything. I had not fenced against her much before but I always try to get smarter from the losses. When I was down in the 15-touch bout, I just kept believing that I could win. I really don’t like to lose and I knew how bad the feeling would be to go through if I lost. That motivated me and I was more calm. After I went up 14-12 I missed a touch and that let her back in it. She is very tough for me to fence against because usually I’m the one initiating the action. … I’m very happy and want to work hard to win a fourth time. I prepared myself all year for this and am very satisfied with my performance and with how well the women’s team did the last two days. … Valerie (Providenza) is a good fighter with a good temperament for a freshman fencer. She has the skill and good footwork. I’m very impressed with her. When I won as a freshman, I was very stressed out and didn’t know how to manage my energy. It’s not easy to win the NCAAs as a freshman, so that’s a great accomplishment for Valerie.”
Ament Quotes – “In the bout versus Hanna (Thompson), my strategy was to get ahead early and force her to come to me, because her strength is in her defense. I got the first touch but she was not as aggressive as I thought. She kept countering and gained the 5-1 lead but I had time to get back and tie the score. I can’t ever remember fencing an overtime bout in foil before, it was unusual. … Alicja and I wanted to be first and second, that’s always our goal. We are very supportive of each other and give each other advice. We also both always are very nervous going in but just try to focus on one bout at a time.”
Assistant Coach Zoltan Dudas – “Leahy worked very hard versus Alicja and changed her strategy from the five-touch bouts. Alicja tried to start quickly but could not close her out. She has that very nervous style and mentally is very hard to beat. But Alicja made the distance longer, took advantage of her reach and was more controlled in the last period so her opponent could not surprise her with counters. … In the other semifinal, you have to remember that Andrea Ament is not the type of fencer to give up. Hanna is a tall fencer and uses counters but Andrea showed why she is such a great fencer.
Round-Robin Notes – Top finishers include WSU’s Garina (20-3), Walton (17-6), Cornell’s Phair (15-8) and Duke’s Anne Kercsmar (15-8) … Walton posted key wins on Friday over Kercsmar (5-1) and 5th-place finisher Ruth Schneider of Brown (5-2) but lost in the last second to WSU’s Anna Vinnikov (after forging 4-4 tie with 0:13 to play) … Orlando scored a huge win over Garina (3-2), in addition to besting Kercsmar (5-3).
Semifinal – Walton – who had posted a 5-4 win over the lefthanded Phair on Thursday – lunged in to forge a 3-2 deficit and then scored a touch to Phair’s arm for a 3-3 score … the fencers later traded counters (5-5) and Walton took the lead on a riposte (6-5) … a Walton wrist flick forged an 8-8 score and let to the overtime, with a double touch before Walton lunged in time for the winning shot to Phair’s unique clear mask.
Final – The 6-foot-1 Garina scored first on a straight attack in close distance … Walton then went for a toe touch and Garina countered to the shoulder for a 2-0 lead (she used that move several times in the title bout) … a counter by Walton made the score 2-1 but Garina – who beat Walton in a close final at last fall’s Penn State Open (15-13) and most recently won the Midwest Regional title – scored on a hand touch and later stretched to 6-2 on the counter-to-shoulder … Walton came up short on an attack and Garina countered for an 8-4 lead … a parry repost later cut the lead to 11-6 and a Garina counter made it 14-9 before the bout ended on a double touch.
Kerry Walton bested Cornell’s Meghan Phair in an overtime semifinal bout.
Walton Quotes – I had fenced Phair before in some N.A.C.’s (North American Cups) but those usually were 5-touch bouts. Today’s bout was really close the whole time. She is a very long girl with her lunges but I just waited for her, because her attack is not as strong as her defense. … In the final versus Garina, I kept landing short. I wanted to push her farther back but I couldn’t push her far back enough. Then, in the third period, I had to rush and just did not have the time to get back in it. … We are going to be an unbelievable team next year, with all of the women’s team coming back. I was really impressed with how Amy (Orlando) fenced this week. She always fences in a high-class manner and proved that she can handle the pressure.
Dudas Quotes – In the final, Kerry did not find a way to get to Garina. Kerry took good actions but was hesitant to finish. Kerry has a lot of action and a good repertoire, whereas Garina is good physically but does not have as much of a repertoire. It will be interesting to see how they match up next year.
Round-Robin Notes – Columbia-Barnard’s Emma Baratta (20-2) finished as the No. 1 seed, followed by OSU’s Bond-Williams (20-2), Providenza (18-5, +44 on total-point indicators) and Hiss (18-5, +35) … Providenza was poised to knock off SJU’s Christina Crane (4-3) before losing 5-4.
Semifinal – Providenza’s key points came on the “4 parry riposte” move (from the “No. 2 spot) in which she stopped Bond-Williams blade and came right back with the risky touch attempt … Providenza led 2-1 but Bond-Williams later owned a 5-3 edge after faking a shot and scoring on the riposte … Bond-Williams then fell short and Providenza parried the post for 5-4 deficit … the fencers later traded parry/riposte touches (for a 9-7 Bond-Williams lead) and the lead grew to 12-8, then 13-10 … Providenza – who beat Bond-Williams two weeks ago at the Midwest Regional and in Thursday’s round-robin – attacked from the left for 13-11 score and scored on the riposte after Bond-Williams fell short for a tight 13-12 finish … Bond-Williams still had three chances at the winning touch (14-12) but Providenza converted three of her 4-parry-riposte moves to stun the 2002 NCAA runner-up.
Final – Providenza jumped out to a 2-0 lead vs. the lefthanded Hiss before stretching to 7-4 … her lead was 8-6 t the break and Providenza led 10-8 after getting a good feel for the distance and scoring the touch … she then landed some big attacks (11-8) and scored on a sweeping 2-parry … Providenza then won the final six points, capped by a 5-parry and stop cut for the 15-8 win.
Providenza Quotes – “The key versus Bond-Williams was to not rush into it. She’s really a smart fencer and if you get excited she would take advantage. Beating her earlier in the round-robin (5-1) really had helped with my confidence. … In the final against Hiss, I actually had fenced her in foil when we were younger and then she beat me here on the first day. That had taken me by surprise because her style is so different and you don’t know what to expect. I just used two main actions and tried not to rush into it. … For some reason I was more nervous a couple of weeks ago at the Regional. I just went out there thinking like I was at a junior national championship. It would have doubled the pressure if I was worrying about winning each bout for the team. I just wanted to stay calm and focused and tried to keep my mind on things other than the pressure. … It still has not hit me that I won.”
Head Coach Janusz Bednarski Quotes – “Winning a bout over Bond-Williams is a great accomplishment, because she is a fencer who placed in the top eight at the World Championships for senior-level fencers. Valerie started to parry the repost, which is a very psychological action to throw at you opponent but it’s also very risky – because if you miss, you’re dead. Bond-Williams is a slow starter with good reactions. She waits on you but Valerie made a great adjustment. … In the final, Hiss is a controlled and very tall fencer, with the lefthanded style and an unorthodox approach because of her foil background. Again, Valerie fenced a great bout against a much different opponent and won quite easily to get the gold medal.”