Irish sabre squad routs Midwest competition
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
The most pressing concerns for the men's sabre squad weren't strategy or style Saturday against the Minnesota Gophers, but instead the identity of a first baseman.
"Who's on first?" freshman Matt Fabricant asked his fellow sabremen before 9-0 victory over the Gophers.
While the Irish never determined if "I don't know" played third base, they left no doubt that they were the top sabre squad in the Midwest with convincing wins over Northwestern, Purdue, Chicago, Lawrence, Minnesota and Case Western.
The biggest challenge for the Irish this weekend wasn't the tough competition but the lack of competition.
"It's harder fencing the guys that aren't very good competition because it's sloppier," said Fabricant who posted an 11-1 record on Saturday. "It's hard to get around certain things."
Senior captain Clay Morton had the difficult task of trying to get his team focused on the meet when it was obvious that the Irish would win easily.
"Being as good as they are, they are used to this [easy wins]," Morton said. "They just go out there and do what they need to and then go cheer on the other squads."
Setting individual goals and expectations was important at a meet where the team was practically guaranteed six wins.
"Everyday you are out there you are competing against yourself," said junior sabreman Andrzej Bednarski, who led the Irish with a 15-0 record. "So you have keep yourself amused when you are out there — doing different things and keeping everyone amused."
Bednarski found a way to keep himself amused against the Gophers. With the team fighting to not only win every bout but also to win every bout 5-0, Bednarski cringed when he gave up a touch. Bednarski quickly tuned the disappointment of giving up a touch into laughter when he jumped into the air and slashed his opponent's head for a 5-1 win.
Bednarski is clearly the jokester of the squad with his antics on the strip.
"I don't take anything too seriously — opponents, myself, coaches, other teammates as well as everything else," he said.
Bednarski and sophomore Gabor Szelle have both earned All-American honors in the past while Fabricant and sophomore Andre Crompton are both capable of All-American status this year.
With four talented sabremen on the team and only three starting spots, Morton has a tough job finding them all a chance to fence.
"First you just let them duke it out and then see who comes out on top," Morton said. "Then you give the fourth person shots to see if he can do it."
With Crompton fencing internationally Saturday, Fabricant got the chance to step into the starting lineup.
"Matt has shown he can do it," Morton said. "Crompton didn't come today but Matt stepped up and won every bout but one. It's fun that your second best guy leaves and you don't lose a thing."
Fabricant admits that it's tough to wait behind such strong teammates but said that team goals are more important than individual accolades.
"It's definitely tough to wait your turn but I am just here to support the team," Fabricant said. "It's all about the team and not just one individual."
Even beyond the top four, the sabre team dominated. Morton finished the day with an 8-0 record while Tony Rizzuti also posted a perfect record at 5-0.
With so much talent, practices are often more intense than the meets. The Irish go head-to-head every day in practice to fight for starting positions and respect among teammates.
"Practice is much more difficult," Fabricant said. "Fencing with Gabor and Andre and Andrzej — it is much easier to fence [other teams.]"
On a squad with some much talent, one fencer still distinguishes himself as the best — Szelle.
"He makes it look easy," Morton said. "He's smooth and fast as lightning. It's a great asset to have him as part of the team. When he fences us in practices, he makes us better and uplifts the whole squad."
Szelle, who finished second at the NCAAs last year, won all 13 of his bouts with ease. Szelle also finished second at the Junior World Cup Championships in 1998.
In 2000, he has set his sights on his first NCAA sabre individual championship.
"That's my goal for this year," he said. "That's what I can control. I know that I have to win the individual championship to help the team win the title."
When the sabre squad travels to Stanford in March for the NCAA Championships, it will have a chance for revenge against the only team that defeated the Irish this year — the St. John's Red Storm. In the first meet of the year, the Red Storm surprised the Irish with a 7-2 win.
Szelle and the rest of the squad consider that loss a fluke and believe that they will turn the tables on St. John's in the spring.
"Even if we would have fenced them again in New York right after we lost, we would have beaten them," Szelle said. "It was just one of those matches where we didn't focus. I don't know what was wrong with us because we beat Stanford and Stanford beat St. John's. We are definitely capable of beating them and I am pretty sure we will beat them at the NCAAs."
Bednarski exudes even more confidant than Szelle.
"Among the sabre squads we dominant the nation," Bednarski said. "We are the dominant team in the country, The loss to St. John's was easily a mistake. St. John's is going to be sorry that Notre Dame was ever built in the state of Indiana when we get done with them."
All Sports Stories for Monday, February 7, 2000