Mariel Zagunis - who recently won the World Cup circuit's total-points trophy and placed second at the 2006 World Championship - will be taking a three-semester leave of absence from collegiate fencing, in order to focus on her training and qualification for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Mariel Zagunis To Take Leave Of Absence From Notre Dame While Focusing On Qualification For 2008 Olympic Games

Jan. 18, 2007

Notre Dame’s student body returned to campus this week to embark on the 2007 spring semester and that group includes some 800 student-athletes in 26 sports. One of the athletic department’s elite performers – junior women’s fencer Mariel Zagunis – joined her fellow students on campus earlier this week, but it was a bittersweet time to quickly visit with her friends and teammates, as the 2006 NCAA women’s sabre champion currently is back in her hometown of Beaverton, Ore., and has been granted a three-semester leave of absence (spring of 2007 and all of the ’07-’08 academic year) in order to fully focus on training and qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games. Currently No. 1 in the world women’s sabre rankings, Zagunis must meet various qualifying standards at a sequence of international events in order to secure her spot among the four fencers who will represent the U.S. in women’s sabre at the ’08 Olympics. She then would head to Beijing, looking to defend the gold medal she won at the ’04 Olympic Games.

[Note: look for several other releases on the Notre Dame fencing team, coming this week to, in advance of the season-opening Notre Dame Duals on Jan. 20-21; also will continue to provide periodic updates of the various tournaments that Zagunis will be cometing in during the Olympic qualification stage.]

Following the 2008 Olympics, Zagunis still would have one semester of college eligibility remaining, as her “five-year clock” began in the fall of 2004. She then would return to Notre Dame for the 2008-09 academic year and would be part of an Irish team that still would include several top fencers on the current squad, most notably freshman women’s epeeist Kelley Hurley (who likewise is a 2008 Olympic hopeful) and key members of the sophomore class such as foilists Adrienne Nott and Mark Kubik, sabreist Bill Thanhouser and men’s epeeist Karol Kostka. Notre Dame also just signed four top sabre fencers (two on the men’s side and two women) who would be waiting to fence alongside Zagunis in ’08-’09 – and more top recruits (particularly in foil, the specialty of new assistant coach Gia Kvaratskhelia) are expected to come on board in the next two years, prior to Zagunis’ return.

“Of course, we will miss Mariel tremendously but this focus on her Olympic training and qualification is something she must do for the pursuit of true excellence,” says Notre Dame fifth-year head coach Janusz Bednarski.

“This is a very difficult transition for Mariel, because she has many friends on the Notre Dame team and we all are part of her fencing family. I know that she will miss being part of Notre Dame fencing for the next year and a half – but we all will eagerly await being reunited with her for the 2008-09 season.

“Even when she is not here, Mariel’s presence will be felt due to her world-class ability and how professional she is in her preparation and training regimen. Her status as a world champion – and all that entails – has made a lasting and positive impact on the entire Notre Dame fencing program.”

Zagunis will train primarily in the Portland area, at the Oregon Fencing Alliance, while competing around the globe on the World Cup circuit (plus the 2007 World Championships). She has the option of completing some elective coursework at other institutions during the next 20 months, before returning to Notre Dame in the fall of ’08 for the full resumption of her academic career. Zagnuis then likely would complete her anthropology degree requirements in the summer and fall of 2009 – with the possibility of serving as a student assistant coach during the 2009-10 academic year.

UPDATED Mariel Zagunis BIOGRAPHY (Women’s Sabre, Junior; Beaverton, Oregon; top career honors include 2004 Olympic gold medal, 2006 World Cup points title, 2006 NCAA title, 2005 NCAA runner-up and member of U.S. National Team; all biographical data is as of Jan. 1, 2007):

Highly-decorated sabre talent who owns the most unique accomplishments of any competitor in U.S. fencing history, headlined by gold-medal performance at the 2004 Olympics in Athens … has elected to take three semesters off from college fencing (spring 2007 and all of 2007-08) in order to focus on her training and qualification for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing … will continue studies in her hometown area of Portland before returning to Notre Dame for her final year of eligibility in 2008-09 … won NCAA women’s sabre title in 2006, besting her Olympic teammate Emily Jacobson (who fences at Columbia) in rematch of title bout from 2005 (when Zagunis played lead role in ND winning the combined NCAA team title) … entered 2007 listed number-one on FIE world women’s sabre rankings and USFA national rankings … her most noteworthy fencing accomplishments include becoming: the first U.S. fencer to win an Olympic gold medal in 100 years; the first U.S. women’s fencer ever to clinch an Olympic medal finish; the second U.S. fencer to win an FIE World Cup season points title (in ’06); one the first U.S. fencers (from either gender), along wih club teammate Becca Ward, ever to reach a World Championship goldmedal bout (silver medal, in ’06), with only one previous U.S. fencer having earned a World Championship medal … tremendous athlete (youth soccer player) with great tactical skill … employs tireless training and “all-business” approach for every bout (regardless of the level of competition ) … has benefited from training under former Notre Dame assistant coach Ed Korfanty, developing a wide variety of actions on the strip … very goal-oriented in all aspects of her life, including extensive endurance training … her background in soccer can be seen in her athleticism, speed, anticipation skills and quick reaction time … delayed enrolling at Notre Dame one year in order to pursue Olympic dream … one of four current Notre Dame sabreists who train at the Oregon Fencing Alliance (also seniors Valerie Providenza and Patrick Ghattas and sophomore Bill Thanhouser) … one of seven athletes featured in the Showtime special “Bud Greenspan Presents Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory” … that special (Nov. ’05) told the inspiring tale of Zagunis and other Olympians … honored by her home state of Oregon as the 2004 Bill Hayward Amateur Athlete of the Year … owns a .962 winning pct. (75-3) in regular season bouts with the Irish, ranking third in the history of Notre Dame women’s fencing behind former foilists Maria Panyi (.980; 146-3) and Sara Walsh (.970; 231-7) … her .826 career win pct. (38-8) in NCAA round-robin bouts ranks fourth among ND women’s fencers, behind foilists Molly Sullivan (.915; 54-5), Alicja Kryczalo (.913; 84-8) and Walsh (.870; 80-12).

WORLD CUP POINTS TROPHY: Won Las Vegas Grand Prix to conclude impressive 2006 World Cup circuit that included: silver medals in Orleans (France) and Budapest; bronze in Klagenfurt (Germany) and Vancouver; and 10th-place in Lamezia Terme, Italy, and Hanoi, Vietnam … finished atop women’s sabre World Cup rankings – her 198 points were 12 more than runner-up Sophia Velikaia of Russia (186) – and received prestigious World Cup trophy in Turin, Italy, at 2006 FIE World Championships … joined longtime U.S. sabre teammate Sada Jacobson (in ’03, ’04 and ’05) as only American fencers (male or female, in any weapon) ever to win a World Cup total-points trophy … earlier won three Junior World Cup titles (’02-’04) … recognized by U.S. Olympic Committee as one of three honorees for June 2006 Athlete of the Month (also swimmer Michael Phelps and track-and-field’s Lashinda Demus) … runner-up finish in Orleans (Feb. ’06) included wins over France’s Leonore Perrus (round-of-16), Poland’s Olga Socha (15-8 quarterfinal) and Italy’s Gioia Marzocca (15-11 semifinal) before narrowly losing to France’s Anne-Lise Touya in final (13-15), with nearly 3,000 spectators on hand to see that matchup between 2004 Olympic champ and 2005 world champion … headed to Budapest later that month, with 15-10 win over China’s Xue Tan in round-of-16 (their first meeting since the 2004 Olympic final), a quarterfinal win over Japan’s Sakura Kaneko (15-10) and 15-14 semifinal vs. Ukraine’s Olga Kharlan before losing final to Russia’s Velikaia (10-15) … competed in Lamezia Terme (March 10) days before helping Notre Dame win NCAA title … combined with Thompson, Sada Jacobson and former Columbia fencer Emma Baratta to win women’s sabre team competition in Hanoi (in addition to her 10thplace finish) … lost to Ward in Klagenfurt semifinals before picking up bronze in Vancouver … her third World Cup event in June of ’06 included combining with Ward, Thompson and Sada Jacobson for thrilling title-match win over Russia (45-44) at Las Vegas, in addition to her individual title after facing a tough field, with key wins over Thompson (round-of-32), recent Notre Dame signee Eileen Hassett (round-of-16; 15-7), a pair of French fencers in the quarterfinals (15-14 vs. Perrus) and semifinals (15-12 vs. Touya), and Italy’s Ilaria Bianco in 15-14 title bout.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: The 2006 World Championship in Turin (a.k.a. Torino), Italy, saw Zagunis beat Germany’s Alexandrea Bujdoso in the quarterfinals (15-10), followed by a 15-10 semifinal vs. her U.S. teammate Sada Jacobson before losing 11-15 final bout to the 16-year-old sensation Ward … the finalists became second and third U.S. fencers (men or women) ever to earn individual medals at the World Championships and first to reach World Championship individual title bout … opened in the 89-fencer women’s sabre field with 15-9 win over Germany’s Amelie Zerfass before round-of-32 win over Poland’s Irena Wieckowska (15-13) … Jacobson, who fenced at Yale, defeated top seed Touya of France in the quarterfinals … former Stanford foilist Iris Zimmermann is the only other U.S. fencer with a World Championship medal (bronze, ’99).

OLYMPIC NOTES: Signed letter-of-intent with Notre Dame in Nov., 2002, and graduated the next spring before embarking on 15-month training regimen for shot at Olympics … cutoff for qualifying was April 1 and she narrowly missed one of the two initial U.S. spots (’04 Games did not include three-fencer women’s sabre team competition) … she and Emily Jacobson were contending for the final spot and it came down to a bout in late March at a tournament in Italy, vs. Emily’s sister Sada … Sada’s 15-14 win left her sister 10th in the world rankings – just ahead of Zagunis, who continued to train and was granted another chance when Nigeria declined to send its fencer Jacqueline Esimaje … Zagunis, who had risen to sixth in the world, received the open spot as the highest-ranked fencer not already in the Olympic field (the African region had no other sabreists in the top-100) … headed to Athens and Helleniko Sports Center, where she beat Japan’s Madoka Hisagae in round-of-16 (15-13; long 2:39 bout), Azerbaijan’s Elena Jemayeva in quick quarterfinal (15-11) and Catalina Gheorghitoaia of Romania in 15-10 semifinal … commanded gold-medal bout vs. China’s Xue Tan, jumping out to 8-2 lead while fencing with tenacity and clever tactics … Xue battled back to 10-6 before the bout ended 15-9, with Zagunis ceremonially tossed in the air by members of the U.S. team.

OTHER RECENT RESULTS: Finished second behind teammate Sada Jacobson at 2006 Pan-American Games (Oct.) in Venezuela, also helping U.S. win the Pan-Am women’s sabre team title … helped U.S. women’s sabre team win 2005 World Championship (Oct. 15; in Leipzig, Germany), with 45-36 win over Russia in finale that avenged loss in 2004 World Championship final … named’s “Olympic Athlete of the Week” for lead role in winning world title … went 15-8 in three stints vs. Russia to lead the way, after strong stints vs. Hungary in 45-27 semifinal (she went 18-4) and vs. France in 45-32 semifinal (9-4) … teamed with Sada Jacobson, Ward and Thompson on 2005 world championship team that did not allow more than 38 points in a bout (45-38 vs. Great Britain in round-of-16) … took ninth in ’05 World Championship individual competition, losing to Ward (13-15) in unlucky round-of-16 matchup … won 2005 World Junior Championships (individual and team), in Linz, Austria, during late March (days after helping ND win NCAA title) … her march to ’05 World Junior title included 15-13 quarterfinal vs. Ward, 15-9 semifinal vs. Ukraine’s Kharlan and 15-9 final win over Russia’s Velikaia … combined with Emily Jacobson, Ward and Thompson to win ’05 World Junior team title … placed sixth at Junior World Cup in Budapest (Jan. ’05; lost to Ward in quarterfinals) before winning two Senior World Cups – in Klagenfurt, Austria (June 4-5) and Vancouver (July 9-10) – and then battling illness to place sixth at World Cup in Welkenraedt, Belgium (May 14-15) and reaching title bout at Las Vegas World Cup (June 17-19; lost 13-15 to Poland’s Socha) … combined with Sada Jacobson, Ward and Thompson to win team bronze at Las Vegas (’05) … World Cup win in Austria included 15-4 bout with Providenza, 15-12 quarterfinal vs. Great Britain’s Louise-Bond Williams, 15-5 semifinal with Germany’s Sybil Klemm and 15-13 title bout vs. Ward … placed third at North American Cup in Overland Park, Kan. (Jan. ’05; wins over both Jacobson sisters) … won Junior World Cup in Sosnowiec, Poland (fall ’04) – beating Poland’s Malgorzata Kozaczuk in 15-4 quarterfinal, Ward in semifinals (15-11) and Poland’s Marta Wator in 15-10 final – before heading to White House for reception to honor 2004 Olympians … won ’04 Junior World Cup in Louisville, Ky., besting Annika Eiremo in 15-9 quarterfinal, Thompson in semifinals (15-6) and Ward in 15-9 final … placed sixth at ’04 Junior World Cup in Ariccia, Italy, and second at N.A.C. in Richmond, Va. – with wins over Bond-Williams (15-3) and Ward (15-11) before 13-15 final vs. Emily Jacobson.

IN THE RECORD BOOKS: Just a handful of U.S. fencers have stood on Olympic medal stands, the previous being sabre bronze medalist Peter Westbrook at the 1984 games in Los Angeles (field thinned by boycott) … combined with Sada Jacobson (bronze) as first U.S. women’s fencers ever to win Olympic medals (also first time two U.S. fencers had medaled at same Games in 100 years) … the only previous U.S. fencers to win Olympic gold came in 1904 men’s “single sticks” competition, when many top Europeans did not attend due to the difficulty in reaching middle America (St. Louis) … prior to 2004 – when former Notre Dame standouts Ruth Riley (basketball), Kate Sobrero and Shannon Boxx (soccer) helped their teams win gold in Athens – just two Olympic gold medalists had ties to Notre Dame: basketball players Vince Boryla (’48, London) and Adrian Dantley (’76, Montreal), with Boryla having transferred … no previous Olympiad had featured more than two medalists with connections to Notre Dame and it had been 28 years since more than one had medaled (two each in ’32, ’48 and ’76) … the only other Olympic medalist with ties to Notre Dame fencing is epeeist Bjorn Vaggo (silver in ’84 at L.A., fencing for Sweden) … became second incoming/returning Notre Dame student-athlete (first in 84 years) to win Olympic medal, joining Gus Desch (bronze in 400-meter dash; 1920, Antwerp) … combined with men’s epee alum Jan Viviani to make Notre Dame one of just four schools (also St. John’s, Columbia, Princeton) with multiple former/current fencers on U.S. team’s full 15-fencer roster at 2004 Olympics.

OTHER TOP RESULTS: Her many unique accomplishments include becoming: the first fencer to win three World Championships in one season (2001 u-17 and u-20 individual, u-20 team); first U.S. fencer to hold four World Championship titles in span of nine months (also ’00 overall team title); only U.S. fencer to win multiple Junior World Cup point titles (’02-’04); youngest fencer to win FIE World Championship; first U.S. fencer to finish atop World Cup point standings (’02); and recordholder for medals in junior/cadet World Cup Championships (8, plus 4 medals at senior-level World Championships) … placed sixth 2004 Senior World Cup in Orleans, France, while helping U.S. women’s sabre team finish as 2004 World Championship runnerup … won 2001 World Junior Championship as 15-yearold (beating Sada Jacobson in 15-11 final), joining Zimmermann as second U.S. fencer to win two World Championships (Kazimieras Campe and Ray Sexton were the only previous U.S. fencers to win a World Championship) … lost to Emily Jacobson at 2004 Junior World Championships (6-15) … first held U.S. overall number-one ranking in 2001, when she was named U.S. Fencing’s female athlete of the year … also won 2001 Junior Olympics and u-16 national titles … two previous U.S. fencers had won Junior World Cup titles (Felicia and Iris Zimmermann; ’95 and ’97 foil) … combined with Sada Jacobson for first U.S. 1-2 finish in World Cup standings.

AS A SOPHOMORE: Her NCAA championship performance was preceded by dominating regular season (46-2; .957), the 8th-best win pct. ever by any ND women’s fencer (best in women’s sabre, also 7th-most women’s sabre wins) … ND women’s fencing MVP (also women’s sabre MVP), after postseason that included winning NCAA Midwest Regional before topping Columbia’s Emily Jacobson (her Olympic teammate) in NCAA title bout … her 18-0 record at Northwestern Duals included 5-1 win over Stanford’s Eva Jellison before key wins at NYU Duals (13-1), vs. Ohio State’s Siobhan Byrne (5-3) and Eileen Grench (5-3), Columbia’s Baratta (5-3), the St. John’s pair of Kasia Wieronski (5-1) and Olga Ovtchinnikova (5-4), and Yale’s Carly Guss (5-1), with lone loss to Columbia’s Jacobson (3-5) … 9-0 in limited action at ND Duals and 6-1 at UCSD Duals (1-5 loss to Jellison) … allowed just four touches in winning six Regional poll bouts, followed by 15-5 quarterfinal vs. Northwestern’s Emily Pasternak (15-5), narrow win over Providenza in semifinals (15-13) and final win over OSU’s Byrne (15-4) … posted 11-3 record on day-1 at NCAAs in Houston, with top win vs. Columbia’s Jacobson (5-3) after having gone 0-4 in previous college bouts vs. her fellow national teamer … other top day-1 wins included sweeps of Harvard’s Carolyn Wright (5-0) and Alexa Weingarden (5-1) and SJU’s Ovtchinnikova (5-1) and Wieronski (5-1), also defeating Providenza (5-3), Duke’s Allison Schafer (5-0), Lauren Phillips of Rutgers (5-1), Penn’s Cassandra Partyka (5-4), Yale’s Guss (5-3) and Cornell’s Alexandra Heiss (5-2) … her losses came vs. two All-Americans, Columbia’s Baratta (1-5) and Duke’s Ibtihaj Muhammad (3-5), plus 4-5 defeat to UCSD’s Raelyn Jacobson … a 6-3 record on day-2 tied her for fourth in round-robin standings, advancing to semifinals due to +43 totalpoint indicators (PSU’s Sophia Hiss was +31) … scored key day-2 win over Hiss (5-2), OSU’s Byrne (5-3) and Stanford’s Jellison (5-4), plus other wins over UNC’s Jennifer Kling (5-0) and Northwestern duo of Mai Van Vu (5-1) and Pasternak (5-0) … day-2 losses came vs. OSU’s Grench (3-5), club teammate Thompson of PSU (2-5) and Wayne State’s Katarzyna Kuzniak (4-5) … avenged loss to Baratta in semifinals, despite deficits of 0-4, 5-8 and 6-12 (she won seven of next eight for 13-13 tie) … Baratta then scored on parry-riposte, as did Zagunis, who scored decisive touch (15-14) on straight attack after Baratta briefly hesitated on her own attack … the final did not produce nearly as much drama, with 8-3 lead before winning the title-bout rematch from Jacobson (15-8).

AS A FRESHMAN: Enjoyed impressive debut on college scene by finishing second at 2005 NCAAs and recording near-perfect record (29-1; .967) during 2004-05 regular season … tied ND foilist Kryczalo and Penn State sabreist Franz Boghicev for best round-robin records (21-2) in 144-fencer NCAA field … played key role in historic rally to edge Ohio State for NCAA title (173-171; OSU held 24-point edge after two days of men’s bouts) … combined with Providenza (19-4) for dominating 40-win total in round-robin … just three previous pairs of teammates (men or women) have posted more combined NCAA wins in same weapon (since format began in ’96) … owned best total-points indicator (+66) in entire field (four shutouts, seven 5-1 bouts, six 5-2, two 5-3, two 5-4) … helped set NCAA record for wins by a women’s team (103-35) … joined Kryczalo and epeeist Amy Orlando in reaching their respective final bouts (ND’s 2004 squad had been the first ever to do that in NCAA women’s competition) … 11th ND fencer (men or women) to reach NCAA final as a freshman … sat atop sabre standings after day-1 (13-1), with wins over Providenza (5-2), OSU’s Byrne (5-0) and Amelia Galliard (5-2), PSU’s Laura Hillstrom (5-1), Harvard’s Wright (5-4) and Duke’s Muhammad (5-0) … lone loss on first day came vs. PSU’s Hiss, the ’04 runner- up (3-5) … combined with Providenza for 12-0 start in Sunday’s tension-packed rounds … helped knock St. John’s from chase with wins over All-Americans Christina Crane (5-1) and Wieronski (5-4), adding top wins over Penn’s Katelyn Sherry (5-1) and Columbia’s Baratta (5-1) … dropped 1-5 bout to Columbia’s Jacobson for her second and final defeat in round-robin … registered 15-5 semifinal win over OSU’s Byrne before falling to Jacobson in final (11-15) … missed 2005 Regional (World Cup conflict) but was granted exemption into NCAAs … swept OSU fencers at Midwest Fencing Conference Championships (5-0 vs. Byrne, 5-1 vs. Grench, 5-3 vs. Galliard) … opened 11-1 at NYU Duals, posting sweep of OSU (5-3 vs. Byrne, 5-1 vs. Gaillard and Grench) while dropping 3-5 bout to Columbia’s Jacobson … 18-0 record at ND Duals included wins over Byrne (5-3), Grench (5-2) and Galliard (5-2).

PREP & PERSONAL: Played soccer starting at age of five, competing on state-select teams and earning three letters as midfielder at Valley Catholic High School … her brother Marten fenced at Penn State (’03-’06) while brother Merrick is a top-ranked youth fencer … daughter of Robert and Cathy Zagunis, who were collegiate rowers (at Oregon State and Connecticut College, respectively) before competing with U.S. rowing team at 1976 Olympics in Montreal … Mariel Leigh Zagunis … born March 3, 1985, in Portland, Ore. anthropology major, in College of Arts and Letters.

Mariel Zagunis Career Record

Year W L Pct. NCAA Finish
2005 29 1 .967 2nd
2006 46 2 .957 1st
Career 75 3 .962