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Fencing: Irish eye title despite departures

Matt Robison | Wednesday, February 1, 2012

During the 2011 campaign, the Irish were loaded with a talented crew of seven seniors and 11 All-Americans, eventually winning the national championship. Although the objective is the same this year, the approach is totally different.

The nature of the 2011 national championship team was a top-heavy ensemble of talented seniors who carried the Irish to the title. However, the lack of star power on this year’s squad has created an entirely new atmosphere, an atmosphere that junior James Kaull said has brought a new culture to Notre Dame fencing.

“There were a lot of talented kids who not only had big personalities but who were also very good,” Kaull said. “Everyone else just kind of fell into place behind them.”

This year however, there is a distinct feeling of cooperation among experienced fencers and new ones alike, unlike the upperclassmen-dominated 2011 squad. This top-to-bottom style of improvement was something Notre Dame did not see last year, according to Kaull.

“It’s definitely something new this year,” he said.

This season, several veterans have risen to replace the leadership and talent of graduated seniors. However, their focus is more on developing the youth than carrying the team to victory by themselves.

The result is a dynamic environment that features young and experienced fencers working together every day. The leadership roles are constantly evolving, Kaull said.

“With them gone, the leadership roles aren’t so defined,” Kaull said. “People don’t necessarily fall into place naturally. The new leaders have to figure out their own leading style, and the younger ones have to cope with that period of uncertainty.”

For Kaull, leadership by example has been the most effective method, but that does not mean he won’t use a hands-on approach to leading if it is necessary.

“It’s a lead by example approach,” Kaull said. “[But] I absolutely do take time to break down certain techniques and skills and mindsets going into tournaments.”

This mode of leadership stems from the approach of the coaching staff, which allowed the culture of collaboration to rise “organically,” Kaull said.

“[The coaches] didn’t ask me to do anything in particular,” he said. “They assumed I would figure it out.”

The lack of All-American star power does not mean the Irish lack the skill or preparation to defend their title, however. The junior said Notre Dame is as confident as ever in its ability to capture another national championship.

“We’re ready to go,” Kaull said. “We don’t have as many big names as we did last year, but I feel like we have all the talent in the world to win it. It’s not going to be a big flash performance. It’s going to be a lot of grit and a lot of upsets that we’ll need to pull off to win, but I feel like we absolutely have the people to win it.”


Contact Matthew Robison at [email protected]