Feb. 14, 2003

A familiar flag returned to the Joyce Center flagpoles today, as the blue-and-gold #1 flag was unfurled in honor of the Notre Dame men’s fencing team’s return to the nation’s top rankings. The traditional #1 lighted sign also will be returning to its spot atop Grace Hall on the northeast corner of campus.

For the third straight year, the men’s fencing team has battled its way to the top of the national rankings – riding the program’s third-longest winning streak (78 regular-season matches, dating back to 2000) and 19-0 in 2003, heading into the final regular-season competition on Feb. 22 (the Michigan State Duals).

Notre Dame’s climb to the top has included a 16-11 win over No. 4 Ohio State (at the OSU Duals), a 15-12 decision in the showdown with previous No. 1 Penn State (at the ND Duals) and last week’s 18-9 win over then-No. 6 Stanford at the Duke Duals.

In the first poll since the preseason rankings (which listed both Notre Dame teams second), the Irish men have swapped places with Penn State while St. John’s remains third and Ohio State fourth. The rest of the top-10 poll includes Pennsylvania, Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Air Force (which lost 15-12 to the Irish at the ND Duals) and Stanford.

Penn State remains No. 1 in the women’s poll, with St. John’s edging past the Irish women (17-2) while OSU remains fourth. The women’s top 10 also includes Columbia-Barnard, Princeton, Temple, Northwestern, Penn and Harvard.

The 2001 and ’02 Notre Dame men’s teams both used victories over then-No. 1 St. John’s to claim the top ranking at the midpoint of those seasons.

The Notre Dame men have been led by a veteran men’s foil unit that has won nearly 83 percent of its bouts in 2003 (141-30) while combining for nearly 4000 career wins (393-77). Three former All-Americans for a potent trio for the Irish foilists, with senior captain and three-time All-American Ozren Debic owning a near-perfect record in 2003 (42-1) while his classmate Forest Walton (35-9) and sophomore Derek Snyder (34-6) have chipped in with strong seasons.

The men’s epee squad (126-45, .737) is led by one of the nation’s premier men’s epee tandems, in the form of senior captain three-time All-American Jan Viviani (38-6) and sophomore Michal Sobieraj (39-4, after 27-1 season and All-America finish in ’02).

A pair of seniors – 1999 NCAA runner-up/2000 NCAA champion Gabor Szelle (40-5) and Matt Fabricant (41-4) – have combined for an 81-9 record in leading an Irish men’s sabre squad that has won nearly 80 percent of its bouts (133-38, .778).

Others who have contributed to the Irish men’s success in 2003 include junior epeeist North Carey (22-16) and junior sabre Brian Dosal (27-19).

U.S. Fencing Coaches Association Men’s Fencing Poll (2/13/03)
1. Notre Dame
2. Penn State
3. St. John’s (NY)
4. Ohio State
5. Pennsylvania
6. Princeton
7. Columbia
8. Harvard
9. Air Force
10. Stanford
Others receiving votes: Yale, Duke, Rutgers, MIT, NYU, Cal State Fullerton, Wayne State, Boston College, North Carolina, Brown, Johns Hopkins.

U.S. Fencing Coaches Association Women’s Fencing Poll (2/13/03)
1. Penn State
2. St. John’s (NY)
3. Notre Dame
4. Ohio State
5. Columbia-Barnard
6. Princeton
7. Temple
8. Northwestern
9. Pennsylvania
10. Harvard
Others receiving votes: Stanford, Yale, Air Force, Rutgers, Brown, Wayne State, MIT, Brandeis, Duke, NYU, Cal State Fullerton, Boston College.