The Notre Dame fencing team during day one of the Notre Dame Duals on February 7 at the Joyce Center.
The Notre Dame fencing program received a significant boost to its coaching ranks in the fall of 2007, when Fencing Master Marek Piotr Stepien officially came on board as a full-time assistant coach. Stepien - a former Olympic fencer with Poland's National Team who served as a volunteer assistant with the Irish in 2006 - joins Head Coach Janusz Bednarski and assistants Gia Kvaratskhelia and Ian Farr in giving Notre Dame four full-time coaches to lead the Irish in their quest for another NCAA title.
The addition of the Krasnik, Poland native showed immediate dividends in several aspects, as Stepien combines with Bednarski (sabre), Kvaratskhelia (foil) and Farr (sabre) to provide each weapon with expert one-on-one instruction. Stepien helped the Irish finish as national runners-up at the 2008 and 2009 NCAA Championships, their best finishes since 2005.
At the NCAA Championships of 2007 to 2010, Notre Dame boasted a combined 21 All-Americans, including seven in epee. Two seasons ago, Stepien guided junior Ewa Nelip and junior Courtney Hurley to first-team All-American honors, as the duo tied for third. Under Coach Stepien's training, Ewa Nelip earned a silver medal in the World Championships in Belfast and was dubbed the gold-medalist of the Student World Championships. They combined for 38 round-robin victories, the most wins by teammates at the 2009 Championship. Most recently, Nelip finished 29th at the Senior World Championships in Paris. On the men's side, fellow native of Poland, Karol Kostka, capped his Irish career with a third All-American honor, as he finished 10th.
Stepien has also proved adept at helping his epeeists achieve success on the international stage as well. Kelley Hurley, a 2010 graduate of Notre Dame, made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, while her sister Courtney has won three junior world cup events in 2009 alone. Recently, Ewa Nelip returned to Poland, to train with the national team for the 2009-10 season. Now, she is back and training with Coach Stepien in preparation for the World Championships and Olympic Games in London, 2012.
In 2008, Kelley Hurley became the program's 12th national champion while, as a freshman, Nelip joined Hurley on the All-American first team with a third- place finish. On the men's side, Greg Howard closed out his Irish career with an eighth-place finish at NCAAs for second team All-American honors, while Kostka finished in ninth for third-team honors.
Stepien led the same group to success at the 2007 NCAAs as a volunteer assistant. Kelley Hurley capped that season by finishing as the women's epee runner-up at the NCAAs. Howard (8th) and Kostka (11th) were also 2007 All-Americans in men's epee, guided by Stepien throughout the NCAAs.
Stepien captained Poland's national team and was part of the four-man epee team that placed eighth at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. An accomplished all-around athlete, he also competed in the modern pentathlon (swimming, running, shooting, fencing, horseback riding) at the 1984 World Championships in Romania, and he qualified for the 1988 Olympic Pentathlon (in Seoul). The three-time European Fencing Championship participant twice won Poland's national championship (`89, '90) and was Poland's top-ranked epee fencer in 1989, 1990, 1992 and 1995. He competed at the World Fencing Championships four times from 1989-1994.
Stepien posted 1992 Olympic wins over Italy's Angelo Mazzone, Manizio Randazzo and Stefano Cuomo (all were ranked top-10 in the world). He won 1988 World Cups at Innsbruck, Austria, and Darmstadt, Germany, and defeated Germany's Arndt Schmitt (the 1988 Olympic Champion) at a 1989 World Cup in Heindenheim, Germany.
One of Stepien's other noteworthy endeavors is the training camp he founded and oversaw, bringing together elite fencers from several countries. These training sessions - dubbed by participants as "Camp Marek" - were held from 2001-10 at the prestigious Olympic Sport Center in Drzonkow, Poland and presently in Spala, near Warsaw. Stepien's training camps were considered the best in all of Europe, due to the combination of hard work and a spirited and energizing atmosphere.
Stepien moved to Great Britain in 1997 and quickly made an impact on the London fencing community. He served six years as fencing coach at Cambridge University, overseeing the team's all-around development while helping mold Cambridge fencing into a winning program. The 1998-99 academic year saw Coach Stepien guide Cambridge to a historic win over rival Oxford, fol- lowed by similar wins in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. The men's fencers later won the 2001 British University Students Association (BUSA) title - Cambridge's first BUSA fencing title since 1947 - with the men and women going on to win BUSA titles in 2002. Cambridge fencers reached BUSA individual title bouts in 2000 and 2004.
Coach Stepien's time in England also included overseeing the fencing program at City of London School for Boys (CLSB; 1998-2007) and nine years as Head Coach at Haverstock Fencing Club (1998-2006), the top epee club in Great Britain. He was responsible for fitness and flexibility training at Haverstock while coaching all three weapons. Stepien also coached at the University of London (1999-2000) and the Reading Fencing Club (1998-2000), where he helped prepare two elite athletes - Stephanie Cook (gold) and Kate Allenby (bronze) - who posted medalist finishes in the pentathlon at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
His Haverstock fencer Greg Allen twice won England's Commonwealth Games, was a seven-time World Championship qualifier (from 1998-2005), reached a top-50 world ranking and placed third at the 2001 Innsbruck World Cup. Jonathan May - who trained five years with Stepien, at Haverstock and CLSB - is one of England's top-ranked epee fencers, having fenced in the 2006 and 2007 European and World Championships. Andrea Wraith, another of his Haverstock epeeists, won the bronze while representing England in Malaysia at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Stepien coached fencing at Dulworth College in London (2004-05) and also taught advanced fencing at the American School in London (2004-06). He founded the Brixton Fencing Club in 2004 and developed two upstart qualifiers for the 2007 British Youth Championships. At this moment, Brixton is the most successful youth-fencing program in the United Kingdom.
Stepien previously worked in the U.S. as an athletics teacher. He served summer stints from 1999-2001 as an Olympic Development Clinic director in Roswell, N.M., helping develop fencers with Olympic potential. Stepien also worked as a councelor during the summers of 1997-2000 at Camp America in Center Harbor, N.H.
Stepien earlier worked six years (1991-97) at Warsaw's Academy of Physical Education and Physical Therapy (APEPT) as a professor in the Integrated Sport Club for the Disabled. He over-saw physical therapy classes while preparing the academy's club team to compete in Poland's first fencing championship for the disabled. Stepien specialized in coaching adults with quadriplegia, tetraplegia and amputations.
Stepien coached several disabled wheelchair fencers in preparation for the 1996 Paralympics, with his star pupil Jadwiga Polasik going on to win the women's epee gold. Stepien - who introduced Polasik to fencing - was on the organizing committee for a Poland-USA-France disabled fencing tournament and served as a full-time APEPT lecturer on the theory of disability in sport (1995-97). He also was a full-time physical education teacher at primary school 247 in Warsaw (1994-97) and a full-time faculty member at the Janusz Kusocinski School of Sport Champions in Warsaw (1992-94), where he lectured and mentored elite young athletes in modern pentathlon.
Stepien has a number of hobbies in his life which he is most passionate for. He ran two London Marathons ('03, '04) and competed in fencing marathons ('99, '02) to support Royal Marsden Hospital and St. Christopher's Hospice in the United Kingdom. He also is a successful photographer who studied in Poland and in the United States at the University Notre Dame.
Stepien received a masters degree in physical education from the Academy of Physical Education and Physical Therapy in 1992, also receiving his fencing master diploma from the same institution in '92. He added a postgraduate diploma from the University of Warsaw Faculty of Pedagogy (in politics and management education; '06) and a post-graduate diploma in aspects of European development, from the Warsaw Center of European Integration, University of Warsaw ('07). Stepien earlier spent four years in PhD studies at APEPT (1993-97) and received numerous coaching/fitness certificates.
Stepien was born in Krasnik, Poland, where he began his fencing career at the Stal Krasnik sport club under coach Czeslaw Wichtorowski. He then moved to Warsaw and began fencing under coach Marek Maky at the age of 10. He later was coached by 1964 epee world champion Bogdan Andrzejewski and Zbigniew Konczalski, during Olympic preparation. Konczalski was at the time Polish national coach. Throughout his first 15 years as a fencer, Stepien was guided by fencer and pentathletes Zbigniew Kuciewicz and Zbigniew Pacelt - both of whom helped him develop his career.