One of the parody commericals for the 2012 O.S.C.A.R.S. (Outstanding Student-Athletes Celebrating Achievements & Recognition Showcase) - featuring head fencing coach Janusz Bednarski and former football All-American Golden Tate.
2007 NCAA Fencing Championships, day-2 of men's competition (Madison, NJ). Photos by Chris Pedota.
The University of Notre Dame's athletic heritage has featured many legendary coaches, but only one--current 12th-year fencing coach Janusz Bednarski--directed his Irish squad to the national title in his first year as the program's head coach. Such was Bednarski's accomplishment in the spring of 2003, when a veteran Notre Dame squad edged rival Penn State to return to the pinnacle of the collegiate fencing world.
Bednarski was named the sixth head coach in the program's storied history in May of 2002, after serving eight seasons as an assistant on the Notre Dame staff. The sabre specialist has seen his first 11 seasons as the Notre Dame head coach yield a .924 combined winning percentage (586-48) - with nearly identical marks during that span by the Irish men (287-28) and women (299-20).
Success was not just a first-year feat for Bednarski, as he helped guide the Irish to a historic comeback to win the 2005 NCAA Championships, as well as guiding his team to a wire-to-wire victory at the 2011 Championships. Additionally, with his triumph in 2005, he became the first Notre Dame head coach in any sport to see his teams win multiple national titles in fewer than five seasons while in 2011 also becoming just the fourth Irish head coach all time to have claimed three or more titles during his tenure (Knute Rockne - football (3), Frank Leahy - football (4), Mike DeCicco - men's fencing (4)).
Notre Dame earned a hard fought third-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships, closing with an overall team score of 160 points. Men's foilist Enzo Castellani was the top Irish fencer at the NCAA meet, as he earned first team All-America honors to lead the foil squad to its first weapon championship since 2003. The women's foil team added a runner-up finish in team competition to lead Notre Dame to its 19th straight top-five result at the NCAA Championship.
After seeing his teams fall just short of the title during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, Bednarski finally saw the teams efforts come to fruition during 2011, as the 12-member delegation held on for a six point victory over two-time defending champions, Penn State, 174-168. The victory was aided in part by four of the 12 Irish fencers - Ariel DeSmet, Courtney Hurley, Avery Zuck, Eileen Hassett - claiming first team All-America honors, in addition to DeSmet and Hurley each claiming individual gold in men's foil and women's epee, respectively. Reggie Bentley, Barron Nydam, Hayley Reese, Lian Osier and Ewa Nelip were also tabbed All-Americans for their efforts. As a result, Bednarski was tabbed as the USFCA NCAA Coach of the Year for the first time in his tenure with the Irish.
Prior to returning to the top of the mountain in `11, the Irish encountered three straight near misses in `08-10, finishing runner-up on two occasions (`08, `09) and third place once (`10). In `08, the Irish racked up 176 points while seeing 11 participants earn All-America citations, while in `09 the team improved on that total by six points (182) with 10 of the 12 competitors being named All-Americans. Kelley Hurley (epee) and Sarah Borrmann (sabre) both captured individual gold medals at the 2008 NCAA Championships, while freshman Gerek Meinhardt finished runner-up in men's foil in `09.
The 2010 season was still a historic campaign despite not claiming the national title, as for the first time since 1994 both the men's and women's teams finished the season undefeated. It also marked the first time each team posted undefeated records with over 30 wins. During the 2010 season, Bednarski coached 11 of his athletes to All-America status, including epeeists Courtney Hurley, Kelley Hurley, James Kaull and Greg Schoolcraft; foilists Hayley Reese, Gerek Meinhardt and Enzo Castellani; and sabreists Sarah Borrmann, Eileen Hassett, Avery Zuck and Barron Nydam. Meinhardt improved on the previous years finish as well, capturing the NCAA individual gold for men's foil.
Bednarski has a rich history of coaching some of the best all-around collections of sabre talent in all of college fencing, perhaps none more talented the crop of seniors who graduated following the 2011 NCAA Championship. Zuck, Nydam, Hassett and Borrmann concluded their Irish careers having combined for 13 All-America honors and a national championship (Borrmann) in three seasons under his tutelage.
His sabre fencers have now earned 48 All-America honors (with women's sabre making its debut in 2000) and have added five NCAA individual titles and seven runner-up finishes. Lian Osier and Kevin Hassett (second team) were both recognized as All-Americans in 2012.
One of Bednarski's most impressive sabre duos included Mariel Zagunis (the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist in sabre), who dominated her college bouts with the Irish as a freshman, while going 29-1 in the regular season and advancing to the 2005 NCAA title match before returning to win the NCAA title in 2006. Valerie Providenza impressively won the 2004 NCAA sabre title and then battled through illness to post the second-most round-robin wins at the 2005 NCAAs (behind Zagunis), helping Notre Dame stage its historic rally to edge Ohio State for the NCAA title. Zagunis (21-2) and Providenza (19-4) blitzed the 2005 NCAA field for a 40-6 combined record.
On the men's side, Patrick Ghattas and Matt Stearns combined with 2009 graduate Bill Thanhouser to give the Irish another talented sabre group. Ghattas was one of the nation's top-ranked junior fencers, competing with Team USA at the 2005 World Junior Championships while earning All-America honors at the 2004 NCAAs and again in `05 (when he reached the title bout, followed by two more NCAA runner-up finishes in 2006 and `07). Stearns turned in a 10th-place finish for his own All-America honor at the 2005 NCAAs, combining with Ghattas for the second-most men's sabre wins (32) in the NCAA field. Thanhouser then placed sixth at the `06 NCAAs for his own All-America honor. Providenza and Ghattas ultimately became rare four-year sabre All-Americans, while Stearns and Zagunis both posted two All-America finishes with the Irish.
A former Olympic-level coach with Poland's national team program, Bednarski's leadership and training strategy positioned the 2003 Irish for a run at the program's sixth all-time NCAA title and first since `94. Bednarski served as head coach of Poland's Olympic Team from 1978-88, with members of those teams winning 11 medals at the Olympics and World Championships. Formerly a member of Poland's national sabre team, the Warsaw native received the prestigious Polish Silver Cross of Merit for his coaching accomplishments as head coach of the Polish National Team. Prior to assuming his duties as the Irish head coach, Bednarski had been a vital member of the Notre Dame program as it remained among the nation's best - with the Irish finishing as the NCAA runner-up every year from 1996-2000, in addition to third-place finishes in 1995, 2001, `02 and `04.
Bednarski's days as an assistant included helping coordinate the recruiting effort that fortified the Irish for their pursuit of the national title. The 2003 seniors finished as the most accomplished class in the history of Notre Dame fencing, combining for nearly 1,300 career victories and 20 All-America performances. The senior leaders in 2003 included a pair of four-time All-Americans in men's epeeist Jan Viviani and men's foilist Ozren Debic, with senior men's sabreist Gabor Szelle and senior women's epeeists Meagan Call and Anna Carnick each posting three All-America performances during their careers. Debic (157-8, .952) and Viviani (162-20, .890) finished with the top career winning percentages in Notre Dame history for their respective weapons while Szelle (182-13, .933) ranks fourth all-time on the sabre win percentage list and sixth among all men's weapons.
The 2005 senior class included a pair of top fencers from Bednarski's native Poland - three-time women's foil NCAA champion (`05 runner-up) Alicja Kryczalo and 2005 men's epee NCAA champ Michal Sobieraj (`03 NCAA runner-up), in addition to two-time NCAA foil runner-up Andrea Ament. Each of those three became rare four-year All-Americans, with Kryczalo going undefeated (23-0) in the 2002 NCAA round robin before beating Ament in the gold-medal bout (Ament's only losses in the `02 NCAAs came versus her teammate, followed by a third-place finish in `03). Bednarski's first season as the Notre Dame head coach included a 46-2 combined record in regular-season dual meets, with the Irish men going 24-0 to extend the program's third-longest winning streak to 83 matches (that streak ultimately ended at 90 matches in 2004). The Irish men claimed the number-one ranking in the middle of the 2003 season, after knocking off Penn State in a fiercely contested 15-12 decision at Notre Dame's Joyce Center.
Bednarski's 2004 Notre Dame squads combined for a 50-1 record, with both the Irish men (24-1) and women (26-0) holding the number-one ranking. The 2005 teams followed with a 43-5 combined record (22-2 by the women; 21-3 for the men) and the Notre Dame women held the nation's top ranking for most of that `05 season. Both Irish teams then suffered only one loss in 2006 (each 29-1), with the women again rising to the top spot in the AFCA poll.
During Bednarski's eight seasons as an assistant, the Irish won 93.6 percent of their dual matches (382-26) and the Irish men's team held the nation's number- one ranking in both the 2001 and 2002 final coaches' polls. Bednarski's work with Notre Dame has made a significant impact in sabre and epee - with Bill Lester, Luke La Valle and Gabor Szelle combining over a six-year stretch (`95-'00) to win two gold, two silver and one bronze medal in NCAA sabre.
The men's sabre squad posted the maximum two All-Americans in each of Bednarski's first six full seasons (`96-'01), with that level of success unmatched by any other Notre Dame weapon in that six-year stretch. He tutored two-time sabre All-American Andre Crompton (`02), who stood as high as sixth in the U.S. rankings, while Szelle and fellow senior sabreman Matt Fabricant earned All-America honors in 2003 to help pace the national title-winning effort.
Bednarski also oversaw the career of women's sabre captain Carianne McCullough, who progressed from being a walk-on to a nationally ranked competitor and 2002 All-American. He then developed Destanie Milo into an All-American in her own right, with Milo's sixth-place finish at the 2003 NCAAs providing a final push to the team title.
Bednarski helped mold Providenza and Ghattas into top-level collegiate fencers. Providenza turned in a strong rookie season and won the 2004 NCAA title--becoming the first Notre Dame sabre fencer (men's or women's) ever to win the NCAAs as a freshman (followed by Borrmann in 2008). Ghattas turned in his own All-America showing at the 2004 NCAAs (placing 10th) and surged to number two in the USFA under-20 men's sabre rankings, before going on to his NCAA runner-up finishes in 2005 and `06.
After moving to the United States in 1988, Bednarski served as head coach at Denver's CFS Fencing Club - the largest fencing club in the Rocky Mountain region - from 1989-94. Many of his CFS products went on to achieve great success on the national and international level. While in Colorado, Bednarski served on the U.S. coaching staff at the 1993 (head coach) and 1994 Junior World Championships and was a U.S. coach for the 1992 Junior Pan-Am Games. His fencers have competed in Olympics, World Championships and World Cups in all age categories.
Bednarski served from 1994-2002 as head coach of the Escrime du Lac Fencing Club in Mishawaka (also known as the Indiana Fencing Academy) and has been a member of many advisory panels for the U.S. Fencing Association, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association. He is licensed by Federation International D'Escrime as an "A" category Fencing Director and is one of just a handful of fencing specialists in North America who are ranked by the International Fencing Federation.
His wide-reaching experience includes participating in the organizational efforts for World Championships held in Denver (1989 and `91) and South Bend (2000). In 1997 and `99, the U.S. Fencing Coaches Association selected him as the Midwest Region Coach of the Year.
Fluent in several languages, Bednarski received his master's degree in business in 1970 from Warsaw's prestigious SGPiS Business College, where he worked as a lecturer in economics. He obtained his coaching diploma from the Academy of Physical Education in 1978 and has published several articles on coaching, effective club management and the counseling of athletes.
A resident of Granger, Ind., Bednarski and his wife, Izabella, have two sons: Michael and Andrzej, a three-time sabre All-American and 2002 graduate of Notre Dame who also served as an intern assistant coach on his father's staff during the 2005 and `06 seasons.