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Fencing: Kaull balances dual role as coach, competitor

Conor Kelly | Monday, December 5, 2011

As one of the top junior fencers in the country, James Kaull has a lot on his plate. Between school and fencing, the hours can be long and hard. Throw coaching into the mix, and you will catch a glimpse of the dedication and hard work that have made the Irish favorites to repeat a national championship.

Without an assistant coach since the departure of Marek Stepien after last season, the Notre Dame epeeists have seen Kaull step into the role for the smallest group of fencers on the team.

“A bunch of us were pretty disappointed to see [Stepien] go,” Kaull said. “We achieved some pretty fantastic individual results with him. No one was happy to see him go, but the show must go on.”

While Irish head coach Janusz Bednarski leads the program, much of the nuanced and individual preparation for the epeeists falls to Kaull. He now faces the challenge of playing the role of both teammate and coach.

“It’s not something that comes naturally,” Kaull said. “It’s tough in an individual sport to tell people how to prepare for tournaments. It’s hard to turn the switch on and off between being a player and acting as a coach.  My biggest mistake during the beginning of the year was trying to coach too much.”

His fellow epeeists have appreciated Kaull’s increased role.

“James is definitely a leader,” sophomore Mike Rossi said. “He’s kind of assumed the responsibilities of our coach since Stepien left. He leads us in practice when we’re split up.”

Kaull’s role has helped solidify a unique bond among the Irish epeeists, who include three freshmen in their group of seven.  While most of the conditioning and footwork practice is conducted as a team, individual drills and bouts are done within each respective discipline.  Without a coach for the time being, Rossi said that learning from each other becomes all the more important.

“Practicing against each other is a huge part of how we get better,” Rossi said. “especially when you’re going up against someone like James who’s one of the best in the country. He beats you most of the time.”

The Irish epeeists’ impressive showing at the Penn State Open in November convinced Kaull that his teammates and charges are on the right track. With the University set to hire an epee coach for the second semester, the future looks bright.

“Even with all the challenges that we’ve faced this year — an influx of new freshmen, being without an epee coach and a number of players leaving to train for the Olympics — I feel that we’ve already accomplished great things with the limited resources we have,” Kaull said. “We’re really excited for the rest of the season.”

Contact Conor Kelly at ckelly17@nd.edu