Irish take second in national championships
By MIKE CONNOLLY
PALO ALTO, Calif.
The Irish fencing team stormed back from a big deficit during the last two days of the NCAA Fencing Championships this weekend, but their comback fell just short Sunday and Notre Dame finished in a tie with St. John's for second place.
Trailing Penn State by 26 bouts entering the last two days of competition, the Irish rallied to close the deficit to four but could not pass the Nittany Lions. Penn State won its sixth consecutive national title and the Irish took second for the fifth straight year.
"We gave them a nice run," Irish head coach Yves Auriol said. "I guess it's not fun to be second but this year, the way it went with us being so far behind and coming back, I am pleased with the guys."
After the women's competition ended Friday, the Irish were in fourth and any chance at a national title seemed nearly impossible. When the men's competition began on Saturday, the Irish forgot about the score board and just concentrated on winning bouts.
"With that big of a deficit, you can't even look at it," freshman epeeist Jan Viviani said. "Things would either happen or wouldn't happen. You can't think about it too much."
The men almost made it happen.
Viviani won 17 bouts for the Irish to finish fourth in the round robin and earn first team All-American. Ozren Debic won 20 bouts in foil and sophomore Gabor Szelle scored 20 in sabre to pick up two more first team All-American letters for the Irish. With strong contributions from second team All-American Andrzej Bednarski who won 17 sabre bouts, freshman Forest Walton who finished 14th in foil with 14 wins and sophomore Brian Casas who won nine epee bouts, the Irish nearly caught the Nittany Lions. Penn State's lead, however, was just too great to overcome.
"The women gave us too big of a disadvantage to Penn State," Szelle said. "Twenty-six bouts was just too much. I thought we could do it but we feel a little short."
In head to head competition with Penn State, the Notre Dame men won nine of 12 matches. The Irish foil team split with Penn State while the epee team downed the Nittany Lions 3-1. In sabre, Szelle and Bednarski each went 2-0 against Penn State. Bednarski and Szelle's 37 combined wins were the most by any sabre squad. The foil and epee squads both earned second place combined finishes.
In individual competition, Szelle won the championship in epee with a 15-12 win over Wayn State's Jakub Krochmalski. Szelle defeated Ivan Lee of St. John's 15-12 in the semifinals.
Debic fell just short of a championship in foil, losing 15-10 to Stanford's Felix Reichling. Reichling won his second straight foil title. In the semifinals, Debic defeated Yale's Ayo Griffin 15-8.
Viviani lost a tight semifinal match 7-6 in overtime to Alex Royblat of St. John's. After winning priority in overtime, Viviani knew that Royblat, the 1999 epee champion, would have to attack.
"I guess I was nervous about [overtime] since he was the one who had to do something," Viviani said. "He had to do some action and I didn't know what it was going to be. I think I just missed. I don't even think he hit me. I think he hit the floor but that is just was happens when you have a director that can't see or hear."
In the semifinals, Viviani faced Royblat's teammate, Doran Levit. Viviani dominated the bout early on and built a large lead. Trailing by seven, Levit seemed to give up and started dancing on the strip and lowering his guard to give Viviani easy touches. Finally, Levit stepped back from Viviani and refused to even engage the freshman.
Auriol was not pleased with Levit's antics.
"I didn't like that at all," he said. "When he was dancing, that was different, but then he was just standing there are the back of the strip. But Jan stayed calm and did what he had to do."
After the director issued Levit a red card for refusing to engage Viviani, the St. John's duelist finally began fencing again. But Viviani held off Levit's attacks and won the bout 15-12 to win the bronze.
On the first two days of competition, nerves and inexperience proved to be too much for the Irish women to overcome. While senior Magda Krol finished with a 16-7 record and a fifth-place finish, no other Irish woman finished higher than ninth. The other five Irish women were all competing in the NCAA Championships for the first time.
"I think that if I thought a little bit more and took my time, I could have done better," freshman Liza Boutsikaris said. "I was rushing everything. I was too tense and nervous."
Boutsikaris earned honorable mention All-American with a 12th place finish in foil. Krol earned second team All-American and became the fourth Irish women's fencer to earn All-American honors four times. Boutsikaris and Krol's 28 combined victories were good for fourth among women's foil squads.
In epee, Anna Carnick and Meagan Call both earned honorable mention All-American with ninth and 12th place finishes respectively. The women's epee squad combined for fifth place overall.
Freshman Natalia Mazur also took home honorable mention All-American with a 10th place finish in women's sabre. Junior Carianne McCullough won nine bouts to finish 19th. The women's sabre squad finished seventh overall.
All Sports Stories for Monday, March 27, 2000