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Fencing: Coach continues winning tradition

Aaron Sant-Miller | Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Currently in his 10th year at Notre Dame, Irish coach Janusz Bednarski has claimed three NCAA championships, in 2003, 2005 and 2011. After winning his third championship, Bednarski became just the fourth Notre Dame head coach in any sport to accomplish such a feat. According to Bednarski, his experience in the sport contributes greatly to his success.

“Each coach brings some items that are not in possession of others,” he said. “I am bringing my experience because I have so many years in this sport. I have been an Olympic coach in Poland. I have seen all the stages in an athlete’s development. I have knowledge of the physiology and of other aspects of the study. There is no college for coaches. Rarely is there a higher education in sports, so experience is crucial.”

In his time at Notre Dame, Bednarski has taken young, talented fencers and groomed them into national champions. Yet, Irish recruits tend to have certain traits that help with this process, he said.

“We are looking for and getting those who are driven. They want to be better,” Bednarski said. “They call us the Fighting Irish. They are fighting for something to achieve and they want to be proud of it. It’s not only the way to get it, but it’s the way that they show everybody that we want to win.”

Still, that doesn’t mean coaching here has been free of challenges, Bednarski said.

“On our team, they are trying to blend high-class sport with high-class academic level,” Bednarski said. “It’s a lot of additional work because there is a fight for time. As a coach, it’s hard to organize life and to organize the structure of practice to satisfy and achieve the goals that are set by the kids coming here.”

The result of these combined demands, Bednarski said, can add a great deal of pressure.

“There is the inside pressure in the institution and the student population for us to be good at sports and our other strengths,” Bednarski said. “I need to ask myself if I did everything I could to win. If we don’t, I don’t feel very well. In other schools, they can do something different as an excuse. For us, there is no excuse. It is a big pressure.”

Yet, despite the challenges, Notre Dame is a great place for him, Bednarski said.

“I am very happy with the situation. The institution is a model for those people,” Bednarski said. “It’s also located in a beautiful campus where it’s pleasurable to walk from one place to another. It’s not a boring or totally quiet atmosphere. You see all kinds of action, sometimes good or sometimes bad. You feel like life is going. The institution is filled with positives.”

Through his first nine years of coaching at Notre Dame, Bednarski has achieved a winning percentage of .946, with a combined men’s and women’s record of 487-28. This year, with a roster filled with Olympians and national fencing stars, Bednarski looks to chase more wins and another national title, all while soaking in all that is good about Notre Dame.

Contact Aaron Sant-Miller at [email protected]