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In search of a repeat

Matt Mooney | Thursday, March 25, 2004

Every fencer on the Irish roster has gone through the season with one word in the back of his or her mind – “repeat.”

After winning the 2003 NCAA Championships, the next big test was to defend it the following year. Today the Irish begin their quest to do just that.

Notre Dame brings 11 fencers to participate in the 2004 national championships held at the Gosman Center on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. The Championships will take place over a four-day span from March 25-28.

The women will fence for the first two days, and then men will conduct their bouts over the remaining two. The national championship is awarded based on the best combined score of both the men’s and women’s teams. Each fencer will compete in 23 round-robin bouts to determine the team score.

Defending the title this year poses many challenges which the team did not face a year ago. Aside from the wearing the target of “defending national champion” this year, every fencer competing in last year’s NCAA Championships had at least one year of collegiate fencing under their belts. This year, over half of the Irish competitors will be freshmen, including both saber squads, which are composed entirely of freshmen.

Notre Dame also lost top foilist Derek Snyder for the season when he broke his hand March 17. Snyder had just won a regional championship, and head coach Janusz Bednarski feels the team may have been dealt a crippling blow.

“It’s a very, very hard loss because Derek was in very good form,” he said. “We have very talented kids but not experienced, and it’s not the same level like Derek. Our chances to defend our national title are much lower. We have a weaker position for sure.”

Freshman alternate Frankie Bontempo will fill Snyder’s place to maintain the allotted 11 fencers.

Additionally, the fencing team will face much stiffer competition at this year’s championships. In previous years, the Irish have had to contend with the traditionally strong squads from Penn State and St. John’s. But this year, a new contender has risen in Ohio State.

Notre Dame has been a first-hand witness to the increasing threat from the Buckeyes. Earlier this year, the Buckeyes unlocked the Irish stranglehold on the Midwest Fencing Conference Championship crown when they took both the men’s and women’s titles from the Irish for the first time since 1984.

Ohio State also made a strong bid for its first national fencing crown by qualifying the maximum 12 fencers at the Midwest Regional. Penn State and Columbia-Barnard qualified 12 and 11, respectively.

“The toughest [opponents are] our traditional rivals Ohio State, Penn State,” Bednarski said. “But now without Derek, we have to watch attack of others. Columbia is very strong this year, and [so is] St. John’s.”

But Notre Dame still possesses an incredible wealth of talented post-season veterans to help lead the way.

The women’s foil “A-Team” of Alicja Kryczalo and Andrea Ament are attempting to medal for the third time in as many years. Krycazlo is the two-time defending national champion and Ament has finished right behind her with second and third-place finishes. Michal Sobieraj will attempt to win an individual title this year after narrowly losing in the last year’s epee final. Kerry Walton won the epee championship in 2002.

However, Bednarski knows that these individuals will not be able to carry the load by themselves.

“They have to perform well, but the problem is that it’s not unlimited help,” he said. “The rules of the competition are not allowing Alicja, for example, or Ament to make up his points. They have a limited [number] of bouts. Even if they win everything, we will still be short.”

Over the next four days, the Irish will find out just how long their stretch for a repeat will have to be.