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Great Gathering Provides Perfect Time for Reflection (ND Fencing Facility; Entry #1)

Oct 22, 2012, 8:48 PM EST

The new ND fencing team lounge – located down the hall from the equally-impressive set of locker rooms – is part of the Castellan Family Fencing Center, a fitting tribute to Notre Dame fencers past, present and future (photo courtesy Mike Bennett). The new ND fencing team lounge – located down the hall from the equally-impressive set of locker rooms – is part of the Castellan Family Fencing Center, a fitting tribute to Notre Dame fencers past, present and future (photo courtesy Mike Bennett).

Hello again Notre Dame fencing fans. Sorry, had hoped to pass along this blog entry earlier but have been dealing with various logistical issues (including maintaining my personal sites, such as CollegeSoccer360.com).

… Anyway, one initial goal was to provide a rundown of the great collection of ND fencing alums who were on hand for the Castellan Family Fencing Center dedication over the weekend in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse. Numerous noteworthy alums are mentioned below (some in the category notes and others in the listing at the bottom of the page).

I will be filing a second/final blog entry focused more on the actual fencing facility, plus some notes about the 2012-13 ND fencing team. – PL

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Luke La Valle (1978-2008)

• IN MEMORIAM – During the various dedication comments, it was nice to hear Matt CASTELLAN (a former ND fencer, along with his brother Chris; sons of facility benefactors Patrick and Concetta Castellan) reference former Notre Dame sabre standout Luke La VALLE, who died on New Year’s Eve day (Dec. 31, 2008) – 10 years removed from winning the 1998 NCAA men’s sabre title. La Valle, a non-smoker, passed away after a 21-month bout with lung cancer, leaving behind his wife and baby daughter. As the launch for CollegeFencing360.com (Jan. 10, 2009), I was happy to compile a memorial tribute for Luke, thanks to the wonderful remembrances from his family and friends. Many of you have seen this article, but it serves as a great reminder about so many wonderful stories that emanate from the lives of Notre Dame student-athlete stories.
CLICK HERE for that 2009 Luve La Valle tribute story.

… As some of you may know, the Notre Dame fencing leadership awards for each men’s weapon are named in honor of former ND fencers who died young – Steve Donlon (epee), John Crikelair (foil) and Dan Mulligan (sabre), with Crikelair and Mulligan both killed during military service. At this time of celebration for the new facility, it’s most appropriate to pause in remembrance of all former members of the ND fencing program who have passed on. …

• • •
FACILITY BEFITTING OF CHAMPIONS –  With its deep base of fencing talent, coupled with the ideal practice facilities now available to the program, it’s safe to say that Notre Dame fencing will continue to be on the short list of top contenders for NCAA team and individual titles. The ND fencing program has totaled eight NCAA team titles (men in ’77, ’78 & ’86, women in ’87, m/w combined in ’94/’03/’05/’11) along with 27 individual NCAA championships. Three Notre Dame fencers have won multiple individual NCAA titles and two of those elite talents (no relation) – sabre standout Mike SULLIVAN (’77, ’78)  and women’s foilist Molly SULLIVAN Sliney (’86, ’88) – were on hand in the Joyce Center north dome for the facility dedication. Mike Sullivan went on to finish as the NCAA saber runner-up in 1979, the same year that Andy BONK (another dedication attendee) took home the NCAA men’s foil title (he then was runner-up in ’80).

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Two-time Olympian Gerek Meinhardt is back on campus at Notre Dame and will be looking to reach the NCAA men’s foil title bout for the third time in his career.

Three current members of the Notre Dame fencing team are past NCAA individual champions: men’s foilists Gerek MEINHARDT (2010) and Ariel DeSMET (’11) and women’s epeeist Courtney HURLEY (’11). Meinhardt was back on-campus for the dedication ceremony on the morning of Oct. 20, while DeSmet and Hurley still were in transit returning from Fall Break.

Sprinkling in a few trivia notes here as we go … the third ND fencer who has won multiple NCAA titles? – Alicja Kryczalo, of course, who took home three straight NCAA women’s foil titles (2002-04) before returning to the final bout in 2005, where she lost to Harvard upstart and a future U.S. Olympia, Emily Cross (Kryczalo’s victory haul in the round-robin still helped ND complete an historic comeback to win the 2005 NCAA team title).

In addition to the former NCAA individual champions referenced above, the dedication attendees included five ND alums who reached NCAA finals (but lost) – Mike Sullivan in 1979, Bonk in 1980, Bill Lester (sabre) in 1995, Meinhardt in 2009, and Avery Zuck (sabre) in 2011.

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Molly Sullivan Sliney – pictured during her post-ND days – had a long overdue reunion with her college coach Mike DeCicco during the Castellan Fencing Center dedication weekend.

LONG-OVERDUE REUNION – During the early days of varsity fencing at Notre Dame, Molly SULLIVAN emerged as the face of the program by winning two NCAA individual titles (1986 & ’88) while helping the Irish women win the 1987 NCAA team title. Over the years, Sullivan had kept in touch with her former coach at ND, Mike DeCICCO, but only via phone and e-mail. That all changed a couple days ago, when – nearly 25 years after her graduation – Sullivan (now Molly Sliney) finally had a prolonged, face-to-face reunion with the legendary Notre Dame coach. By all reports, it was an emotional and meaningful visit over dinner, along with a couple other ND fencing alums … great to hear that two of ND fencing’s trailblazers enjoyed this special moment, on a special weekend for the program they helped build.

GROWING OLYMPIC HERITAGE – Twenty years ago, the above-referenced Molly SULLIVAN became the fourth Notre Dame fencer (and first woman) to qualify for the Olympic Games, as a 1992 foil entrant in Barcelona. The program now has seen a dozen different fencers compete in the Olympics, half of them women. Here’s the all-time list of Notre Dame fencers who have competed in the Olympic Games (some did so as former/future ND fencers):

Tim GLASS … 1980 (Moscow) … Men’s Epee (did not compete due to U.S. boycott)
Bjorn VAGGO (Sweden) … 1984 (Los Angeles) … Men’s Epee (silver medalist)
Mike GOSTIGIAN … 1988 (Seoul), 1992 (Barcelona) & 1996 (Atlanta) … Modern Pentathlon (includes fencing component)
Molly SULLIVAN … 1988 (Seoul) and 1992 (Barcelona) … Women’s Foil
Leszek NOWOSIELSKI (Canada) … 1992 (Barcelona) … Men’s Sabre
Sara WALSH … 1996 (Atlanta) … Women’s Foil
Jan VIVIANI … 2004 (Athens) … Men’s Epee
Mariel ZAGUNIS … 2004 (Athens), 2008 (Beijing) & 2012 (London) … Women’s Sabre (gold medalist in ’04 & ’08; semifinalist in ’12)
• Gerek MEINHARDT … 2008 (Beijing) & 2012 (London) … Men’s Foil (current ND 5th-year senior)
Kelley HURLEY … 2008 (Beijing) & 2012 (London) … Women’s Epee (’12 bronze-medal team)
Courtney HURLEY … 2012 (London)… Women’s Epee (bronze-medal team; current ND 5th-year senior)
Lee KIEFER … 2012 (London) … Women’s Foil (current ND freshman)
* Notes – all competed for Team USA unless otherwise indicated; some were alternate qualifiers, many of whom ultimately competed in Olympic team bouting.

• SUPER SABRES – Some of the top sabre fencers in Notre Dame fencing history were on hand at the dedication, headlined by four-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion Mike SULLIVAN (’77 & ’78, while leading ND to pair of NCAA team titles; also NCAA sabre runner-up in ’79) – along with earlier two-time All-American Sam DiFIGLIO (’74-’76), then the later 1995 NCAA runner-up Bill LESTER (3rd at ’97 NCAAs; also 2-time Academic All-American), yet another two-time All-American Matt STEARNS (’05/team champs & ’06), and the recent 1-2 punch of Avery ZUCK and Barron NYDAM, who combined for seven All-America honors during their adjoining careers from 2008-11 (2011 NCAA team champions) … Nydam was a 4-time AA while Zuck’s three top-12/All-America finishes included reaching the semifinals in 2010 before losing in the tightly-contested 2011 NCAA title bout vs. two-time champ Daryl Homer (St. John’s), who went on to reach the 2012 Olympics medal round/semifinals.

Other former ND men’s sabre fencers who attended the facility dedication included: Anthony MANDOLINI (’52-’54, who went on to serve on the Monogram Club board of directors) … Herb MELTON III (’69; son of former late-’40s ND head fencing coach Herb Melton) … Dan YU (’87-’89, ’91) … and Christian BAGUER (’99, ’90-’92). On the women’s side, ND women’s sabre alum Eileen HASSETT also was in the house. Hassett joined Zuck & Nydam as key fencers on the 2011 NCAA team championship squad and become the second ND women’s sabre fencer ever to be a year-year All-American, from 2008-11 (led by 3rd in ’11). … The program’s other four-time All-American in women’s sabre? – Valerie Providenza.

4-TIMERS in the HOUSE – There have been only 21 Notre Dame fencers to earn All-America honors (top-12 at NCAAs) in each of their four years and roughly one-fourth of them returned to campus for the special facility dedication: the aforementioned Mike Sullivan, Molly Sullivan, Barron Nydam and Eileen Hassett, plus women’s foilist Myriah BROWN-Rivera (’96-’99).

OTHER FENCING DEDICATION ATTENDEES (ND fencing alums; others referenced above)

• 1950s – James BROGAN (m-epee; ’57-’59)

• 1960s – Arthur DODSON (m-epee; ’68-’69)

• 1970s –John LUACK (m-epee; ’71-’73) … Jim MULLENIX(m-foil; ’71-’74) … Sally FISCHER LaPlante (w-foil; ’72) … Rick MELECZ (m-foil; ’73) … Thomas HENZLER (m-epee; ’74-’76) … Terry McCONVILLE (m-foil; ’74-’77) … Steve SALIMANDO (m-foil; ’76-’79) … Michael SCHERMOLY (m-epee; ’78-’79)

• 1980s – Tw0-time men’s epee All-American Rich DALY (’80-’83) … Scott RUTHERFORD (m-foil/epee; ’80-’93) … Chris GRADY (m-foil; ’81-’84) … Linda WIESSLER-Hughes (w-foil; ’82) … Kevin WALKER (m-epee; ’84-’86)

• 1990s – Lynn KADRI (w-foil; ’88-’91) … Grzegorz WOZNIAK (m-epee; ’91-’94) … Maria THIENEMAN McKenna (w-epee; ’95, ’97) … Phil LEE (m-epee; ’95-’97) … Paul FLEISCH (m-epee; ’96-’98) … Stephane AURIOL (m-foil; ’96-’99) … Stacey STOUGH Noem (w-foil; ’97-’98)

2000s – Three-time men’s foil All-American and two-time NCAA semifinalist Enzo CASTELLANNI (’08-’11) … North CAREY, Jr. (m-epee; ’03-’04) … Zack SCHIRTZ (m-foil; ’08 All-American; ’08-’11) … Conor GETTINGS (m-epee; ’08-11) … Alex BUELL (m-sabre; ’08-’12) … Nick GRADY (m-foil; ’12)

Note – We were unable to confirm attendance from a handful of alums who RSVP’d (please send additions to Pete LaFleur: editor@collegefencing360.com).  

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