Notre Dame Readys For Another Run
NCAA combined team champions in 1994. Third place in 1995. Second place in 1996 and 1997. These are the lofty standards the 1998 Notre Dame men's and women's fencing team looks to uphold.
Now in his third year at the helm of both the men's and women's programs, head coach Yves Auriol will need to replace the two winningest men's fencers in school history, but Auriol will find help with the return of 1997 NCAA women's epee champion Magda Krol and two-time women's foil runnerup Sara Walsh.
"When you lose, in one season, Bill Lester and Jeremy Siek, it is hard to recover," says Auriol of the graduated fencers. "At the same time, we still have some talented fencers on the team."
Indeed, the Irish have some pretty talented performers with returning All-Americans Myriah Brown and Walsh in foil, Carl Jackson in epee, Krol in epee, and Luke LaValle in sabre.
Despite the loss of the 50 wins by three-time All-American Lester, the Irish should be strongest in sabre with the return of LaValle. LaValle posted a 42-3 mark in 1997 placing him sixth on the all-time winning percentage list of Irish fencers. The junior captain is back after finishing fifth in sabre at the '97NCAA championship following a fourth-place finish as a freshman in 1996. He won his second straight Midwest Regional foil title in 1997 by winning a fence-off with teammates Lester and Jeff Wartgow.
With the departure of two-time captain Lester, who finished third at the NCAA championship in 1997, LaValle will be needed even more to lead the Irish both on and off the strip.
"Luke shows a lot of team leadership and there is no doubt he is the best sabre fencer we have," says Auriol.
Freshman Andrzej Bednarski, son of Irish assistant coach Janusz Bednarski, could step in and help lessen the loss of Lester on sabre. Auriol is also looking to seniors Brian Banas and Noah Hogan and junior Steve McQuade to contribute to the sabre squad. McQuade dropped just one bout last year in accumulating a 15-1 record.
"Andrzej and Steve will team with Luke to give us a talented sabre team," said Auriol.
Four-time All-American Siek moves off the strip and into the coaching ranks for the 1998 season as a graduate assistant coach. Junior Stephane Auriol, son of Yves Auriol, will captain an untested foil squad that has the potential to carry on Notre Dame's long line of strong foil teams. Auriol placed 16th in his first appearance at the NCAA championship in '97. He was second only to Siek at the Midwestern Regional championships.
"We just need to keep improving and, if we do, there may not be any foil team out there that we can't compete with," says the younger Auriol.
Senior John Tejada has battled through an injury-plagued career and appears ready to make his breakthrough as a senior after posting a 22-11 record in 1997. Sophomore Charles Hayes sparked the Irish as a freshman and will be counted on once again. He had an impressive fifth-place finish at the Midwest Regional and finished the season with a 44-12 record. Senior Matt Hysell could also contribute to the foil squad.
"If Charles can step up and John fences well, along with Stephane, our foil team can be as successful as it has been in the past," says Auriol.
The epee squad returns its top two fencers from 1997 in senior captain Brian Stone and 1995 All-American Carl Jackson. Auriol is counting on those two to have a solid senior season together.
"I think we have the fencers in men's epee to do the job," says Auriol. "It is just a matter of whether they can respond to the challenge of having to improve."
The senior duo represented Notre Dame at the NCAA championship in 1997. Stone just missed earning All-America honors by placing 13th while Jackson finished 19th.
Stone and Jackson entered the NCAA championship after strong performances at the Midwest Regional. Jackson took second after dropping a fence-off for first place with Wayne State's Henrikas Vaitkevicius. Stone took third in the meet after placing 13th in 1996. The two had successful results during the regular season, Stone registered a 41-19 record while Jackson went 39-13.
Seniors Jason Boron and Paul Fleisch should also contribute to the epee squad. Sophomores James Gaither and Dominic Guarnaschelli should be ready to step up after seeing limited action as freshmen. Gaither put together a modest 19-3 record while Guarnaschelli was 5-0 in a reserve role.
"There is a lot of potential in this epee team and once the individuals get going, the group's success will follow," says Stone.
While the Irish left the 1997 NCAA championship without a team national championship, sophomore Magda Krol won an individual national title by dethroning St. John's defending champion Nicole Dygert in the women's epee competition. Krol went 18-5 during the round robin portion of the championship to earn the top seed for the finals. She trailed Dygert 13-10 in the final bout before rallying for a 15-14 win.
Krol was equally impressive during the regular season, compiling a 61-2 epee record and 21-2 record in foil. She became Notre Dame's first individual national champion since Heidi Piper won the women's foil title in 1991. Krol is also the first freshman ever to win a women's individual title in Irish history.
"It was great to win last year, but now I am ready for this year," says Krol. "My hope is that I can keep the same focus and concentration that I had all last year."
Krol is just one of a number of fencers comprising an epee squad that may be one of the deepest in the country. Senior captain Anne Hoos is the only two-time NCAA veteran on the epee squad after two 15th-place finishes in 1996 and 1997. She finished behind Krol at the Midwest Regionals in third place. Hoos won 79 bouts for the Irish last year, while losing just 15.
"One of the biggest differences this year is that we are trying to have a lighter spirit about things," says Hoos. "We really want to make the best of the season and learn how to compete. We should be strong with the talent we have."
Junior Nicole Mustilli would have qualified for the NCAA championship except for the fact that Notre Dame's bids went to Krol and Hoos, proof of the depth of Notre Dame's epee squad. Mustilli was the third Irish finisher at the Midwest Regional behind Krol and Hoos and she led the team in epee wins last year, posting an 84-15 record.
Junior Michelle Marafino should also give the Irish depth in epee after a year of improvement in the off season.
"With the quality of fencers we have returning, we should be very strong in women's epee once again," says Auriol.
The Irish also will be talented in women's foil with the return of two-time NCAA women's foil runnerup Walsh. Walsh upset top-seeded Monique DeBruin of Stanford in the semifinals at the '97 NCAA championship to advance to the finals for the second straight year.
In the final, Walsh fell to Ohio State's Yelena Kalkina -- the second straight tournament in which she had lost to an Ohio State fencer. In her bid to repeat as Midwest Regional champion, Walsh lost 5-4 to Buckeye Patricia Szelle in the finals. Walsh also completed the first unbeaten season in Irish women's fencing history as she went 48-0 to secure her place in Irish fencing lore.
Captaining the Irish women's foil squad will be junior Myriah Brown, one of the team's most consistent performers during her career. She was 80-7 as a freshman and compiled an 82-5 record as a sophomore for an incredible 162-12 record and a .913 winning percentage.
"Her record over the last two years speaks for itself, but Myriah Brown will also be a good leader for the women's foil team," says Auriol.
In addition to her solid record, Brown placed sixth at the NCAA championship as a freshman and improved to fifth last year, earning All-America honors at each championship.
"It was a great honor for me to be elected captain," says Brown. "I'll be leading a great squad this year and that helps a lot. The goal will be to improve by the end of the year but it will be difficult to do since they are all good fencers."
Senior Amee Appel is coming off a 70-win season for the Irish and will be counted on for more solid results. Junior Nicole Paulina doubled her win total in 1997 with 71 after recording 35 as a freshman. While doubling her win total again will be impossible, Auriol is nonetheless expecting good things from Paulina.
Sophomore Aimee Kalogera is ready to step up into a larger role this year after posting a 30-3 record as freshman. Senior Stacey Stough and junior Gina Couri could also contribute after both made significant improvement in the off-season.
The perennially difficult Irish schedule will be punctuated by the NCAA championship, which will be held at Notre Dame from March 18-22. Auriol hopes the added excitement for the NCAA event will help the Irish overcome their losses to graduation and develop into a contender yet again. "In the course of the season we should come together and get stronger," says Auriol. "We would like to finish in the top four once again, but of course we could also finish higher."