Irish score 182 points to edge archrival Penn State by three
BY MATT LOZAR
Associate Sports Editor
First-year head coach Janusz Bednarski did something former coach Yves Auriol couldn't do in his seven years in leading the Notre Dame fencing team — win a national title.
The goal of winning the program's first national title since 1994 started from the beginning of the season. It became truly evident when the second-ranked Notre Dame squad hosted No. 1 — and defending national champion Penn State — at the Notre Dame Duals.
Before that dual match showdown, Bednarski gathered his team in a big huddle for a pep talk. What was important wasn't the result of that dual meet, but setting the foundation for a team to win the national title seven weeks later.
"We are trying to build a team during the season. They responded very well. They started to work as a team," Bednarski said. "There is no position they are in where they only care about fencing for themselves. They care about the team."
The mens team defeated Penn State 15-12 and moved up to the top spot in the country for the third straight year while the womens team lost 16-11.
At the Midwest Regional Championship, the Irish automatically qualified 11 fencers and had to wait for Maggie Jordan to earn an at-large bid in womens sabre to let the Irish qualify the maximum 12 fencers.
A major blizzard in Colorado forced the NCAA Championships to be condensed into a two-day event at the Air Force Academy. As Saturday's action concluded and the day went on Sunday, one thing became apparent — it was going to be a very close finish.
In the last round of the womens sabre competition, the Irish were ahead by less than five points and were facing Penn State's Austin O'Neill in the final round. Backed by the largest and loudest cheering section, Jordan and Destanie Milo came through with two critical wins to put the Irish on the brink of completing their mission.
"That was incredible because Notre Dame was cheering so much for me and I didn't even hear Penn State cheering for the other girl. I just blocked them out," Milo said after her 5-0 defeat of O'Neill. "Their cheering helped me, kept me going and kept my adrenaline going. I don't know if I could have done it if I didn't have the team helping me out."
Then, the Irish went to their strength and called on the "A-Team" of Andrea Ament and Alicja Kryczalo to finish the job. Kryczalo, who won her second individual national title in as many years, defeated Stanford's Iris Zimmerman to clinch the title for the Notre Dame and start the long-awaited celebration.
Besides Kryczalo's national title, the Irish had a school-record 11 All-Americans. Michal Sobieraj finished second in mens epee, Ozren Debic was fourth in mens foil and Ament took third to earn first-team All-American honors. Debic and epeeist Jan Viviani became four-time All-Americans.
After the disappointments from finishing second or third every year since 1994, this year's team set itself out on a mission from the beginning not to join those other Irish fencing teams who underachieved and failed to win a national title.
This year, they got the job done.
"Coming into this year, I knew that like any other year we were going to end up in the top three," Debic said. "If we put our heads together, we could get it done."
All Sports Stories for Friday, July 11, 2003