Sophomore Gabor Szelle stakes claim as best U.S. sabreman
By MIKE CONNOLLY
PALO ALTO, Calif.
In just his second year fencing for the Irish, Gabor Szelle had one thing left to prove — he was the best collegiate sabreman in the United States.
Now he has nothing left to prove.
With a 15-12 victory over Jakub Krochmalski in the finals at the NCAA Fencing Championships, Szelle won the title that just barely eluded him as a freshman when he lost to St. John's Keeth Smart in the finals.
"I feel pretty satisfied," Szelle said. "The difference compared to last year was I was able to maintain the way I liked to fence throughout the tournament. I think I started out a bit slow but later on I fenced pretty well. I was able to concentrate on the very important bouts."
Irish head coach Yves Auriol told Szelle that anything less than first would not be acceptable this year and the sophomore from Budapest, Hungary, did not let his coach down.
"I think today he wanted it," Auriol said. "He had a lot of determination. I told him he could not be second."
Although Szelle's bout against Krochmalski was very close, Szelle said he never worried about the outcome. Szelle was familiar with Krochmalski's style since he had seen the Wayne State sabreman fence many times before during the regular season.
Fencing in the same group, Szelle got an even better look at Krochmalski on Saturday and Sunday. When it came time for the championship, the freshman was more than prepared.
"We were from the same region so we know each other pretty well," Szelle said. "He hasn't beaten me in a 15-touch bout."
Szelle was actually more concerned about his semifinal opponent, Ivan Lee of St. John's, than Krochmalski. While Krochmalski was a familiar opponent, Szelle had only faced Lee once before. Although he had beaten Lee in their previous meeting, Szelle did not know what to expect in the semifinals.
"I think this time I did a pretty good job," Szelle said about his second meeting with Lee. "I was able to stop him but he didn't fence very well. He can fence much better than this."
Szelle's championship was the crowning achievement for the Notre Dame men's sabre. Auriol has often said the Irish sabre squad was the best in the country and Szelle championship combined with junior Andrzej Bednarski's fifth place finish merely put an exclamation point on a great season.
"It was the highlight of the weekend," sabre captain Clay Morton said. "It shows that we weren't wrong in thinking that we were the best sabre squad in the nation."
The Irish also avenged their only loss on the season, to St. John's, by winning 37 bouts to the Red Storm's 32.
Szelle regretted that Bednarski did not join him as a first team All-American. Bednarski finished the day with as many victories as Lee but finished fifth behind Lee on indicators.
"I think what Andrzej did was very nice," Szelle said. "He did a very good job. He just got very unlucky. If he could have won one more bout, he could have been in the top four. He was definitely one of the guys who deserved to be in the top four."
While Penn State won the overall team championship, the Irish sabre squad shut out the Nittany Lions in round two of the round robin tournament. Bednarski and Szelle teamed with Krochmalski win six straight bouts and cut the Penn State overall lead to 13.
The sabre team has proven itself to be so dominant that it expects big wins over Penn State. Losses to the Nittany Lions are an embarrassment for Szelle.
"Last year it was basically the same thing," he said. "Except last year, I lost one bout to Penn State — which is pretty bad."
Although Bednarski is going abroad next year, Szelle returns for the sabre squad which also features two potential All-Americans in sophomore Andre Crompton and freshman Matt Fabricant. If NCAA rules didn't restrict schools to two fencers per weapon, both Crompton and Fabricant might have qualified for the Championships this year.
All Sports Stories for Monday, March 27, 2000