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Champions return to campus

Eric Retter | Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Head coach Janusz Bednarski insisted assistant coach Zoltan Dudas join the team on stage as the Irish held their press conference Tuesday afternoon upon returning from the NCAA finals after winning the program’s 7th title. “I would like to mention that Zoltan [Dud-as] is my partner. He made a tremendous job working with us,” Bednarski said. “Zoltan was very special and I would like to mention this during this conference.”Dudas, however, respectfully declined, choosing – much like he had all season – to stay behind the scenes.”It’s not about the coaches I think. It’s about the fencers mostly. They are on the stage, they have to fence, not the coaches,” Dudas said.The press conference marked the first time the entire team had appeared since winning the national title in Houston, Tex., coming back from a 24-point deficit and defeating perennial rival Ohio State atop the standing by the score of 173-171. The women’s team took the stage first, answering questions about the tournament, the season and what comes next.”I thought that since we had three seniors competing on the women’s side. It was very important for us to do well in this competition. I think it’s a great way to go out of your season,” senior epee captain Kerri Walton said. “I think we exceeded our expectations, and we had a wonderful year.”The team members also addressed their place in Notre Dame fencing history.”They obviously won the championship the year before I came here, and that’s definitely something we tried to live up to freshman year, and I wanted it really bad, but unfortunately last year we weren’t able to do it,” sophomore sabre Valerie Providenza said. “I think everyone just wanted it badly enough this year that we all just came together.”The team takes a unique place in Notre Dame athletic history. Not only did the women’s squad score the most points a women’s team had ever scored in the NCAA round robin (103), but this title marks the first time that a Notre Dame coach has won a national title in two of his first three years in charge, as Bednarski and Dudas won in 2003 as well.”I got a lot of e-mails from the 2003 champions. They e-mailed me immediately and congratulated us,” Dudas said.After the women’s team, the Notre Dame men took the stage, with their discussion focused on the drama of watching the women’s team pull them from behind.”I think probably everyone had their moments when they had their doubts on this, but watching the girls fence on Saturday and Sunday and seeing how amazingly they fenced – it just made it that much better to come from behind and then to win in the final round by two points,” sophomore sabre Matt Stearns said.After the press conference, the team gathered around the national championship trophy, smiling and posing for pictures.Perhaps not surprisingly, two days after winning the title, Bednarski and Dudas are already looking forward to next year.”After the big victory, we are immediately talking about the recruiting, the next year and how it’s going to be, and I think that the way to win it,” Dudas said.