The 2003-04 Notre Dame men’s and women’s fencing teams will face many unique challenges as they attempt to repeat as the NCAA combined champions – and the competitive season truly will straddle both ends of the academic calendar, with some key fall matchups at the Northwestern Duals and the Penn State Duals.
Janusz Bednarski – who in 2003 became the first coach ever to guide a Notre Dame team to the national title in his first year as the program’s head coach – combines with his trusty assistant coach Zoltan Dudas in trying to mold a new-look Irish squad into another national-title contender, with just half of the 2003 team’s 12 NCAA back at their respective weapons for the 2004 championship quest.
The Irish women’s squad features six fencers with NCAA Tournament experience, led by five All-Americans. Junior foilists Alicja Kryczalo and Andrea Ament – a.k.a. “The A-Team” – took no prisoners during their first two seasons on the college fencing scene, combining for a 147-13 record (.919) in regular-season bouts while winning at a similar clip in the NCAAs (their 89-11 combined record includes two NCAA titles for Kryczalo while Ament has placed second and third).
Senior two-time All-American Kerry Walton – the 2002 NCAA epee champion – also returns for another run at the national title (she has the option of applying for a fifth year of eligibility in ’04-’05) while her classmate Destanie Milo is back to lead the sabre squad, after breaking through at her third NCAAs for an All-America sixth-place showing in 2003.
Two other seniors will bolster the team’s depth in their respective “returns.” Maggie Jordan has shifted back to her natural weapon of foil, after moving to sabre in 2002 and ’03, and owns NCAA experience at both weapons. Jordan’s move to foil was preceded by the comeback of fifth-year sabre Natalia Mazur, who earned All-America honors as a freshman in 2000 but did not fence in 2001 and ’02 due to illness.
The men’s team will put its 83-match winning streak – third-longest in the program’s history – on the line, with just two of six All-Americans returning from the 2003 championship team. Junior epeeist Michal Sobieraj is a member of Poland’s National Team and was the 2003 NCAA runner-up while his classmate Derek Snyder could contend for the NCAA foil title after placing seventh in 2002 and fifth in ’03. Two-time NCAA participant and 2001 All-American Forest Walton – who combined with Kerry as Notre Dame’s first brother-sister pair to earn All-America honors in any sports (see p. 2) – could return to the NCAAs in his fifth year of eligibility, with senior Brian Dosal and sophomore Nicholas Diacou looking to combine with the newcomers in overcoming the loss of graduated All-Americans Gabor Szelle and Matt Fabricant.
A promising crop of freshmen is expected to play key roles in 2003-04 as Notre Dame looks to replace the most successful senior class in the program’s history, with the class of 2003 combining for nearly 1,300 career wins and 20 All-America performances. The departures include a pair of men’s four-time All-Americans in foilist Ozren Debic and epeeist Jan Viviani, plus Szelle (a three-time All-American and the 2000 NCAA champ) and Fabricant at sabre and the three-time All-America epee tandem of Meagan Call and Anna Carnick.
The freshman class is dominated by an Oregon fencing pipeline that includes three top fencers – Patrick Ghattas, Valerie Providenza and Angela Vincent – from the Oregon Fencing Alliance elite sabre academy, plus epeeists Amy Orlando and Aaron Adjemian from the Northwest Fencing Center. Two former Notre Dame assistant coaches have helped develop the Oregon-based fencers, with Michael Marx serving as the coach at OFA while Ed Korfanty is the head coach at NFC (both also are coaches with the U.S. National Team).
Here’s a look at the Irish, by weapon:
Junior foilist Alicja Kryczalo boasts a .941(79-5) winning percentage in regular season bouts which would rank her third all-time amound Notre Dame women’s fencers.
Bednarski uses the term powerhouse sparingly when speaking about the Notre Dame fencers but it easily applies to Kryczalo (Gdansk, Poland), as the Olympic hopeful has dominated college fencing since arriving in the fall of 2001. Her overall record with the Irish in 2002 and ’03 was 182-11 (.943), including a 79-5 (.941) mark in regular-season bouts that would third all-time among Notre Dame women’s fencers. Her NCAA performances have been equally impressive, winning 42 of 46 round-robin bouts before closing out wins in the semifinals and finals for a pair of gold-medal finishes (she also is a two-time champion at the conference and regional tournaments, plus the prestigious Penn State Open). Her performance as a freshman in 2002 will remain a legend of NCAA Tournament history, as she scorched the round-robin field (23-0) with a magical +100 in the total-point indicators (losing a total of just 15 touches in those 23 bouts).
There are plenty more accomplishments that place the 5-11 Kryczalo – who has held her own fencing versus members of the Notre Dame men’s team – on a short list of all-time greats, both in Notre Dame and NCAA fencing history. She is the first ND fencer ever to win the NCAA title as a freshman and sophomore and one of just three women fencers in the nation to repeat as NCAA champion since the combined format began in 1990. And just one previous women’s fencer – Penn State foilist Olga Kalinovskaya – ever has won three-plus NCAA titles, with only seven men’s fencers completing the feat.
“Alicja has made a wonderful adjustment to overall college life and also has become very comfortable with the concept of team fencing on the collegiate level,” says Bednarski of the 2004 foil captain, who also has performed well in the classroom, as an Academic All-America candidate with a 3.25 cumulative GPA (including a Dean’s List semester during the national championship semester in the spring of 2003).
“She has a fast hand, great footwork with sabre-like acceleration, and the ability to change the distance – all of which makes her like a butterfly on the strip. Despite her tall frame, she is able to read the situation, dodge and step aside – it drives her opponents crazy. She also has the ideal personality for our team, in that she is such a caring and genuine person but can quickly switch into that competitive mode where she is so driven to win.
“Alicja is a great fencer but also a great teammate. She is the full package – and it shows in the quality of her results.”
Ament (Gates Mill, Ohio) – currently No. 5 in the U.S. women’s foil rankings – has been on the cusp of cracking the U.S. National Team but has been hampered by the lack of a current club program in the Cleveland area. A clever and mentally-tough fencer whose 68-8 career record (.896) ranks as the ninth-best winning percentage in the program’s history, Ament has the makings of a national champion in her own right.
“Andrea’s career has overlapped with Alicja’s, otherwise it might be Ament at the top of all the record books – but she still is a very dominant fencer and should end up being one of the best ever at Notre Dame,” says Bednarski.
Junior foilist Andrea Ament is currently No. 5 in the U.S. women’s foil rankings.
“Andrea is lightning quick and has that quick step that breaks the will of her opponent. She also is excellent at quickly analyzing the bout and maximizing her high-level technique. She reads the signals very quickly, about distance and position of the opponent’s blade, and then uses a keen sense of timing and dodging to decrease the target area. She knows how to avoid the touch and deliver the touch – just a great all-around fencer.”
The foil squad lost veteran leader Liza Boutsikaris (a 2000 All-American who also participated in the ’01 NCAAs) to graduation but Jordan – Notre Dame’s other participant in the 2001 foil bouts – has returned to her primary weapon, after shifting to sabre the previous two seasons. Jordan (Maplewood, N.J.) holds the rare distinction of already qualifying for the NCAAs in two weapons, placing 17th in the 2001 foil bouts and 21st in the ’03 sabre competition. Her struggles versus the challenging 2003 NCAA field were wiped away by several key wins from the fiery redhead – most notably a late win over Penn State’s Austin O’Neill that provided a big two-point swing, with the Irish edging the PSU moments later for the NCAA title (182-179).
“We has such great depth at sabre this year and it just made sense for Maggie to go back to foil,” says Bednarski of Jordan, whose 138-41 career record in regular-season bouts includes a 57-19 mark in foil.
“She can give us strong results at either weapon and has experience at the NCAAs in both foil and sabre. Her production this year at foil could be the difference in the women’s team winning the tougher dual meets and she certainly has the skills for a successful season, with such an aggressive style with a great combination of speed, strength and quick hands.”
Sophomore Colleen Walsh (Monticello, Ill.) returns to strengthen the depth of the women’s foil squad, after an encouraging first season in which she won 25 of her 28 regular-season bouts, competed at the Midwest Regional and received the 2003 team’s most improved fencer award. “Colleen has made great strides and is a very serious and analytical fencer who is working to build her technical skills – she is one of the hardest workers on the team and learns from every bout,” says Bednarski.
Snyder (Chatsworth, Calif.) will be looking to take his fencing to the level occupied by his former teammate Debic, who never placed lower than fifth at the NCAAs and reached the semifinals three times. The feisty Snyder was seventh at the 2002 NCAAs and then placed fifth in 2003, with just two of the four ’03 semifinalists (Nitai Kfir of St. John’s and Yale’s Cory Werk) set to return in ’04. A former member of the U.S. Junior National Team and ranked as high as fourth in his U.S. junior fencing days, Snyder currently owns a commendable No. 34 ranking among all U.S. men’s foilists and could move up that list with a strong showing in 2003-04.
“Derek is such a tremendous fighter – he truly leaves it all out there on the strip – and he has a high level of technical ability,” says Bednarski of Snyder, who posted a 66-13 record in his first two seasons. What really sets him apart is that speed and quick footwork, because it gives him the ability to surprise and frustrate his opponent.
Junior foilist Derek Snyder was seventh at the 2002 NCAAs and then placed fifth in 2003.
“The next step for Derek is the NCAA semifinals, which also then means competing for the gold medal. But it takes a lot of things to make that happen and he needs to devote himself all year to the training while staying healthy and developing the consistency of a champion. If that happens, I also think you will see Derek develop into a good leader for us and that’s something we always count on with our fencers, beyond just the simple wins and losses.”
Walton (Londonderry, N.H.) returns for his fifth year of eligibility in 2003-04, after spending ’01-’02 studying in Rome as part of the rigorous architecture curriculum. A two-year veteran of the NCAAs, he placed 14th as a freshman in 2000 before surging to All-America honors with a ninth-place finish in 2001. His 115-28 career record leaves his 35 wins of becoming the 18th all-time Notre Dame men’s fencer with 150-plus wins while his 45-9 regular-season mark in 2003 was followed by a runner-up showing at the Midwest Regional.
“Forest truly loves the Notre Dame fencing program and has shared in all the successes over the past few years, serving as an excellent support for his sister as well as for Ozren and Derek,” says Bednarski.
“But now Forest is back in the spotlight for us – and he is excited to get back to the NCAAs for another shot at the national title. His development was slowed by the year off but he still is a powerful fencer who puts everything into each bout. He has an excellent ability to read his opponent’s actions and is very effective as a defensive fencer. It would be great to see Forest end his career in style, because of all he has given to others in this program.”
Freshman Frank Bontempo (Pittsburgh, Pa.) is one of the potentially impact newcomers who is not a product of the Oregon fencing pipeline. An emerging talent who could show tremendous progress during the early stages of his college career, the wiry lefthander held a solid No. 42 spot in the USFA junior-level rankings.
“Frank obviously is behind out more veteran fencers, in terms of technical and tactical ability, but he has plenty of athleticism and talent and has proven to be an intellectual fencer during our training sessions. He is a great pickup for the program and it just will be a mater of seeing how quickly he progresses at the collegiate fencing level.”
Senior Matt Castellan (Short Hills, N.J.) has emerged as one of the unsung leaders of the Notre Dame program and was one of the reserves who made their way to Colorado Springs as part of the vocal Irish cheering section at the 2003 NCAAs. He posted a 66-18 record during the 2001-03 seasons and received the fencing program’s DeCicco/Langford Award, recognizing inspiration and dedication.
“Matt is one of those great team-oriented fencers who are what the Notre Dame program is all about,” says Bednarski. “He has made good progress on the strip throughout his career and once again will be an important part of the team this season.”
Walton (Londonderry, N.H.) established her status as an elite fencer during a whirlwind five-week stretch that included winning the 2002 NCAA title before taking home the bronze from the World Junior Championships and then winning the U.S. Nationals (she. An epee and foil fencer during her youth, the first-year team captain boasts the rare combination of natural athleticism, mental toughness and knowledge of technique and has dominated in a weapon known for its unpredictability – with her .903 career winning percentage (93-10) on pace to break Magda Krol’s Notre Dame record (.888), also ranking eighth all-time among all ND women’s fencers.
“Kerry truly is a powerhouse, with high-class technique and the ability to use the blade with such great accuracy on her touches. She also is a very smart fence, quickly making the proper decision in relation to the timing and distance,” says Bednarski of Walton, who joins Ament on the fringe of the U.S. National Team scene while standing 12th in the U.S. women’s epee rankings.
“One of the special things about Kerry is how much she cares about the Notre Dame fencing program. She has such an outgoing and engaging personality and fencing is an important part of her life. She wants to do well but more importantly wants the team to succeed – which is part of why she is such a great leader for us.
Orlando (Brookline, Mass.) has spent the past few years of her life on the other coast while training in Oregon at the Northwest Fencing Center. The No. 3-rated epeeist in the U.S. junior-level rankings (and 11th among all women’s epeeist), Orlando has developed into a top-level fencer under the guidance of Marx and now – under the tutelage of Dudas – will look to join Walton as an elite epeeist on the collegiate level.
“Amy was a very important addition for this year’s team because we had to replace two fencers with NCAA Tournament experience,” says Bednarski of Orlando, who placed third at the 2003 Junior Olympics and competed with the U.S. at the 2003 Junior World Championships.
“Kerry Walton will be a great mentor for Amy, who has some similarities to Kerry in that she is so ambitious and is always on the strip, very much immersed in fencing. Amy has a smaller frame but makes up for that with her athleticism and quickness. She could be a special one for us here at Notre Dame.”
Three members of the junior class – Rebecca Chimahusky (Bartlesville, Okla.), Jocelyn Landgraf (West Hills, Calif.) and Natalie Bustamante (Bakersfield, Calif.) – round out the women’s epee squad, with Bustamante studying overseas during the 2003 fall season while Landgraf is slated to do the same in the spring. Chimahusky boasts good physical abilities and a 5-11 frame, helping produce a solid 20-6 record in 2003 (with Landgraf going 15-9 while Bustamante was 20-5 in ’03).
Sobieraj (Krakow, Poland) could be the favorite to win the 2004 NCAA title, along with countryman Adam Wiercioch of Penn State, with the ’03 champ Seth Kelsey of Air Force moving on due to graduation. A well-known sporting figure in his hometown (Poland’s fourth largest city), Sobieraj was a member of Poland’s epee squad that place fourth at the 2003 World Championships while his individual finish (118th) was better than his overall world ranking of 266th (a significant ranking for any collegiate fencer).
Junior epeeist Michal Sobieraj was a member of Poland’s epee squad that placed fourth at the 2003 World Championships.
The 6-2, 180-pounder is known for his combination of speed and power, dominating in the 2002 and ’03 regular seasons to the tune of a 70-5 career record (.933) that would rank as the best winning percentage in Notre Dame men’s epee history and fifth among all men’s weapons. The two-time All-American (he also was 10th at the ’02 NCAAs) did not begin fencing until the age of 13 but steadily has emerge on the international stage.
“Many fencers have an adjustment period to college fencing, with things like the five-touch bouts (instead of 15) and the concept of team fencing,” says Bednarski.
“Michal has so many qualities of an elite epeeist, with a classic physical posture and intellectual bouting tactics to go along with tremendous coordination and a very long reach – plus an unorthodox style that obvisously has worked very well for him. The key thing for Michal remains consistency, control of his emotions and becoming physically stronger. True champions can ‘flick the switch’ and enter that top-level competitive mode – and if Michal does that on a regular basis, there is nobody who can stop him.”
Adjemian (El Paso, Texas) is enjoying the combination of pursing his education and fencing in the same location – after spending the past two years making weekend commutes to Oregon in order to train under Marx at the Northwest Fencing Center. A hopeful for the U.S. team that will compete at the 2004 World Junior Championships, he is ranked seventh among U.S. junior-level men’s epeeists and placed fifth at a 2003 World Cup event in Slovakia.
“Aaron has a smaller frame but is very similar to Michal in terms of his physical talent,” says Bendarski. “He has been adding to his fencing experience over the years but has a surprisingly high level of technical skill, to go along with a modern style that he uses very effectively. Aaron is an excellent addition who will combine well with Michal throughout this season.”
Two others who hail from the southwest – seniors North Carey (Los Alamos, N.M.) and Mike Macalay (Temple, Texas) – combine with developing newcomer Patrick Gettings (Lake Forest, Ill.) to form a competitive mix at men’s epee in 2003-04.
Carey and his namesake are the eighth father-son combination in the history of the Notre Dame fencing program, with the elder North Carey (who made the drive up from Los Alamas for the ’03 NCAAs) earning four monograms as a 1970-73 epeeist with the Irish during the early days of the Mike DeCicco era. The current North Carey compiled a 28-17 record in 2003 during his first season of competition with the Irish before using his sixth-place finish at the Midwest Regional to earn an NCAA alternate spot.
“North has been very consistent in his training and his technique has improved – he’s much faster and is more accurate and skills. The key to his progress will be converting that improvement into results on the strip,” says Bednarski.
“Most of North’s fencing experience has been limited to college bouts and he still is emerging as an all-around fencer, learning how to handle different situations and what tactics to use at certain times. But he has shown that he can perform at a high level and I think you will see a great senior year out of him.”
Macauley – a fourth-year walk-on with nearly 50 career bouts (33-15) and the program’s 2002 “most improved” award to his credit – was one of the surprises of the 2003 U.S. Fencing Summer Nationals (Austin, Texas), shining in his home state with a silver-medal finish out of 160 fencers in the division 2-level competition.
“Mike’s performance was not a surprise to those of us who know him,” says Bednarski. “His skill level still is developing stage but he has great ability at reading the situation and making quick decisions. He is a very smart fencer and it’s always a great joy to watch people like him succeed in this sport – he just needs moves experience at fencing against different styles, but he always has a good chance at figuring out a way to beat his opponent.”
Gettings ultimately could emerge as the team’s No. 3 men’s epeeist, with the Chicago-area product appearing destined for a productive career with the Irish. “Patrick is another fencer with very quick decision-making abilities and he also has pretty good skills for his age,” says Bednarski. “All of the epeeists will be fighting for positions and that will be a very healthy competition. It will be interesting to see how it all sorts out.”
Milo (Knox. Ind.) personified Notre Dame’s breakthrough into national-champion status at the 2003 NCAAs, bouncing back from her own disappointments (17th at the 2001 NCAAs, 18th in ’02) to register an inspiring sixth-place finish in ’03 (including several of the wins that provided the final push to the title). The second-year captain – known for her combination of quickness, fierce competitiveness and a wide variety of combination moves – is a leader in many respects and serves as president of the 2003-04 Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
Senior Destanie Milo registered a sixth-place finish at the 2003 NCAAs.
“Destanie is smaller than many of her opponents but her mental strength is tremendous. She is like a computer on the strip, able to read the movement of the opponent’s blade at high speed and then get close to her opponent to cut the timing and quickly register her own touch. It’s high-class technical skill and a pleasure to observe,” says Bednarski of Milo, whose 126-24 career record includes a strong 40-5 regular season in 2003.
“A big part of Destanie’s success at last year’s NCAAs was her health, because she was slowed by injuries her first two seasons. And you need the physical side, because sabre is very tough physically. If she can keep progressing through training and remain healthy, you could see her back near the top at the NCAAs.
Mazur (Summit, N.J.) is looking forward to a complete return after missing the past two seasons due to illness. An All-American as a freshman in 2000, the Poland native (her family moved to the U.S in ’86) posted a dominating 49-4 record during the debut season of women’s sabre (2000) and carries an 88-13 overall career record. Mazur’s return provides a bonus to the already-deep women’s sabre squad – and the Irish hope her return will parallel that of men’s sabre Gabor Szelle (whose return to the program help lift Notre Dame to the 2003 NCAA title).
“Natalia proved herself as a very talented fencer earlier in her career and now she just has to battle her way back,” says her countryman Bednarski. “She is a very strong and physical fencer who can fight for the tough wins while likewise showing the skill to pull off difficult combinations. The timings of her attack also can be very frustrating to the opponent – so there are a lot of ways that Natalia can beat you. We are just so glad to have her back and are looking forward to a great final season from her.”
Providenza (Beaverton, Ore.) had emerged as the team’s top women’s sabre in 2003 fall training and is part of the youth movement that is reshaping the young sport of women’s sabre – with her junior-level rank (8th) just one spot below her overall standing in the U.S. rankings (9th, meaning that only one of the top-nine U.S. women’s sabres is older than 21). She has fine-tuned her skills under the direction of Korfanty at the Oregon Fencing Alliance, with 2003 Junior Olympic gold medal among her top international results.
“Valerie has tremendous speed – both physically and mentally – which makes her both a classic fighter and a great decision-maker, and those are the perfect qualities for a sabre fencer,” says Bednarski. “She also is driven by a lot of ambition and uses a modern style that is well-suited for her skills – Valerie will be very driven to prove herself as a freshman and it should be fun to watch her progress
The lefthanded Vincent (Lake Oswego, Ore.) is yet another Oregon Fencing Alliance product and holds down a No. 21 U.S. junior-level ranking, with a third-place finish at 2003 Summer Nationals and 15th at the 2002 World Cup. “Angela is a bit behind on the experience level but she has great ability at reading the bout and making proper use of distance. She could very easily prove herself as an NCAA Tournament-caliber fencer before this year is done,” says Bednarski.
Diacou (New York, N.Y.) – who opened some eyes with his strong bout versus Olympic-caliber fencer Alex Weber of Penn State at the PSU Open in the fall of ’02 – is looking forward to his first season of competition with the Irish and could prove to be one of the key factors in 2004 due to his unproven status on the college fencing level.
“Nico proved last year against Weber that he can compete with the best, because his great quickness on the strip makes it hard for even world-class fencers to parry his actions,” says Bednatski. “He is blessed with natural speed and reaction time but now he just needs to get into the groove of college fencing – we definitely will need a good year out of Diacou to help offset our inexperience at sabre.”
Dosal (Miami, Fla.) will serve as the men’s sabre captain in 2003-04 after making his mark at several events in the 2003 season (including a win over Penn State’s Marten Zagunis that helped the Irish beat the Nittany Lions and lay claim to the No. 1 ranking). A relative newcomer to fencing who has trained at the Miami Fencing Club under former Cuban national team coach Maximo Takfang, Dosal did not compete in any bouts as a sophomore before seeing plenty of action in 2003, posting a 35-19 regular-season record before placing fifth at the Midwest Fencing Conference Championships.
“Brian makes up for his lack of experience with quickness and very smart bouting,” says Bednarski. “He reads the distance well, is very focused and attacks a weakness when he sees it. His leadership also will be very important to us this season, as the men’s sabre unit is very young and inexperienced on the college level.”
Ghattas (Beaverton, Ore.) will be looking to parlay his success as a junior-level fencer into quality results on the college level. Rated No. 2 in the U.S. junior rankings (and 21st in the overall U.S. sabre rankings), Ghattas has developed his skills at the Oregon Fencing Allicance’s elite sabre academy and was a member of the U.S. team that claimed a silver medal at the 2003 World Championships in Sicily, also winning individually at a 2003 World Cup event in Louisville.
“Patrick does not have a big frame but he has such a high class of technique and is a true fighter. He also is very agile and a great judge of distance, whereby he can attack a bigger fencer and make him seem smaller,” says Bednarski.
“He can make a quick decision, step aside and then attacks right back at his opponent – he really has the makings for having a great career. Of course, it’s always hard to predict how quickly a freshman can adjust to college fencing but he has shown the ambition and work ethic needed to have great success in the first year.”
Stearns (Minnetrista, Minn.) lags behind Ghattas when it comes to international experience but he nonetheless has a commendable No. 19 U.S. junior ranking, with a top finish of 10th at the 2003 Junior Olympics. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder could follow a similar path of former Notre Dame All-American Andre Crompton (6-1/220), who started his college career ranked 52nd among U.S. sabers but had risen to sixth during his senior year.
“Matthew has the same potential that Andre did and they have another similarity in being so quick for their size,” says Bendarski. “Stearns is able to attack from a farther distance due to his tremendous wingspan and you often don’t see tall fencers in sabre because the weapon requires agility and a quick change of direction. He has shown good intellectual potential and it just will be a matter of developing consistency in his training and stability in each bout while gaining the valuable experience.”