The University of Notre Dame has featured many legendary coaches throughout its athletic history, but perhaps none is as celebrated in their sport as 12th-year fencing coach Janusz Bednarski. In his first year at the helm, Bednarski directed a veteran squad to the 2003 NCAA Championships, where they claimed the title by edging out Midwest rival Penn State, and returning to the pinnacle of the collegiate fencing world.
Bednarski was named the sixth head coach in program history in May of 2002, after having previously worked with the Irish as an assistant coach for eight seasons. As a sabre specialist, Bednarski has seen his squads post a 586-48 overall record (.924 winning percentage) in 11 seasons, with the men and women posting nearly identical marks (the men are 287-28, the women, 299-20).
Known for having some of the best all-around sabre talent, perhaps no class was more accomplished in any one weapon than the crop of seniors who graduated following the 2011 NCAA Championship. Avery Zuck, Barron Nydam, Eileen Hassett and Sarah Borrmann concluded their Irish careers sharing 13 All-America honors amongst themselves and boasting an NCAA individual weapon title (Borrmann) under Bednarski's tutelage. To date, his sabre fencers have earned 51 All-America honors (with women's sabre debuting in 2000), as well as five NCAA individual titles and seven runner-up finishes. Senior Lian Osier, junior Kevin Hassett and freshman Johanna Thill were each recognized as All-Americans in 2013.
Perhaps Bednarski's most impressive sabre duo can be found in the tandem of three-time Olympian Mariel Zagunis and Valerie Providenza. Zagunis dominated her college bouts with the Irish as a freshman, going 29-1 in the regular season and advancing to the 2005 NCAA title match before clinching the weapon title in 2006. Providenza won the 2004 NCAA sabre title, and then battled through illness to post the second-most round-robin wins at the 2005 NCAAs to help Notre Dame stage a historic rally to edge Ohio State for the NCAA title that year. Zagunis (21-2) and Providenza (19-4) blitzed the women's sabre field for a combined 40-6 round robin record.
Patrick Ghattas and Matt Stearns combined with 2009 graduate Bill Thanhouser for another impressive sabre trio overlapping across a few years. Ghattas competed with Team USA at the 2005 World Junior Championships and earned All-America honors from 2004-07. Stearns finished in 10th place at the '05 NCAAs and combined with Ghattas for the second-most men's sabre wins (32) in the NCAA field. Thanhouser placed sixth at the 2006 NCAAs to earn All-America honors. Providenza and Ghattas went on to become rare, four-year sabre All-Americans, and Stearns and Zagunis earned two All-America finishes in their Irish careers.
Not only did he claim the NCAA title in his inaugural season, Bednarski made winning a tradition for the Irish program as the team came from behind to clinch a second NCAA title in 2005, and in 2011 the Irish won their third NCAA title under their polish mentor. With the 2005 win, Bednarski 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, he joined the ranks of three other Irish head coaches to have claimed national titles during their reign (Knute Rockne, Football, 3; Frank Leahy, Football, 4; and Michael DeCicco, Men's Fencing, 4).
In the sweltering heat of San Antonio, Texas, Notre Dame boasted two weapons champions and a runner-up finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships, with senior women's epeeist Courtney Hurley winning in front of a hometown crowd and freshman women's foilist Lee Kiefer claiming her first NCAA Crown. The team finished second to Princeton by seven points and congratulated nine All-Americans by weekend's end.
Traveling to rival Ohio State's home turf in Columbus, Ohio, Notre Dame earned a hard fought third-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships with an overall score of 160 points. Men's foilist Enzo Castellani led his squad to its first weapon championship since 2003, while the women's foil team added points to help Notre Dame land its 19th straight top-five result in NCAA Championship competition.
In 2011, after watching his teams fall just short of winning the title during the 2008, '09, and '10 seasons, Bednarski's 12-man delegation held on for a six point victory over two-time defending champion Penn State to claim the title with a score of 174 to 168. The victory came in large part due to four of the Irish fencers - Ariel DeSmet, Hurley, Zuck, and Hassett - all of whom claimed first team All-America honors. DeSmet and Hurley won their respective weapons classes (DeSmet, men's foil, and Hurley, women's epee). Reggie Bentley, Barron Nydam, Hayley Reese, Lian Osier and Ewa Nelip all also claimed All-America honors for their efforts, and Bednarski was tabbed as the USFCA NCAA Coach of the Year for the first time in his tenure with the Irish.
In 2010, the Irish finished third, and in '08 and '09 they just missed the top mark by claiming second. In 2008, 11 of the 12 combatants earned All-America honors, while in '09, 10 of the 12 were tabbed. Kelley Hurley (women's epee) and Borrman (women's sabre) both claimed gold medals at the '08 Championships, and freshman men's foilist Gerek Meinhardt finished as runner-up in '09.
2010 was still a historic season for the Fighting Irish despite the third-place finish at the NCAA Championship, as both the men's and women's squads finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in program history. Both squads also had over 30 wins. 11 athletes were named All-Americans with sister epee duo Courtney and Kelley Hurley leading the way. Sophomore foilist Meinhardt also stepped up to claim the men's foil title, improving off his runner-up finish the year prior.
A former Olympic-level coach with Poland's national team program, Bednarski's leadership and training strategy have continued to position his teams for runs at NCAA titles, as well as developing athletes for individual competitions at the international level. Bednarski served as head coach of Poland's Olympic Team from 1978-88, with team-members winning 11 medals between Olympic and World Championship competitions during that era.
As a former member of the Polish 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 to 2000, in addition to third-place finishes in 1995, 2001, '02 and '04.
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.
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 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 was 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 have been 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.