Vol. LXI, No. 24
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/ NJ SportAction)HANDS ON TRAINING: Princeton University fencing head coach Zoltan Dudas, left, makes a point to one of his athletes. Dudas, who started coaching in his native Hungary as a 19-year-old, recently completed his debut season at the helm of the Princeton program. Dudas guided the men's team to third place in the Ivy League Championship with the Tiger women taking fourth.
As a 19-year-old fencing star for his club in Hungary, Zoltan Dudas had his sights set on going as far as he could in his competitive career.
But then a novel offer came his way that ultimately changed the course of Dudas' life.
"The coach in my club got another job and the club didn't have any other coach," recalled Dudas. "Fencing is a sport where you have to have a skilled coach. The head of the club came to me to see if I would fence and be a coach simultaneously."
After a year of wearing two hats, Dudas opted to direct all of his energy into coaching. "I decided to be a coach and I don't regret that," said Dudas. "I really like the strategic aspect of coaching. It's an individual sport and you need an individual approach to each student."
In the wake of making that choice, Dudas has gone on quite a coaching journey. After a stellar stint in Hungary where he guided several fencers to success at national tournaments, Dudas came to the U.S. in 2000 to coach at a club in Cleveland, Ohio.
He kept producing winners upon arriving in the U.S. as one of his Cleveland pupils earned a bronze medal at the World Championships.
Dudas entered the college arena in 2002 when he took a job as an assistant coach for the Notre Dame fencing program. In five years in South Bend, Dudas helped the Irish win two national titles and produce 29 All-Americans in the epee and foil.
Taking a step up the coaching ladder, Dudas took the helm of the Princeton University men's and women's fencing teams and earlier this spring he completed his debut season as the head coach of the Tigers.
In following longtime Princeton coach Michel Sebastiani, Dudas knew he faced a challenge. "I think it was a hard transition," said Dudas. "I'm a very demanding coach and it was tough for them at the start. I feel that they were trying their best; they were open to change. I think the atmosphere changed positively."
Dudas came to love the college atmosphere during his time at Notre Dame. "I had knowledge of coaching and the technical stuff but I didn't understand how college sports works here," said Dudas. "In Europe, we compete out of private clubs; we don't have college sports like over here. I really like the concept of college sports; it's one of the greatest things."
Working with college athletes has helped Dudas refine his coaching skills. "It's great to work with intelligent students," said Dudas.
"Some of them have been fencing for 10 years and are world class athletes. It's still a coach-student relationship but you can do more creative things and get ideas from students. I'm lucky to have a good level of students. Coaching is something where you can improve everyday; you can never say you know everything."
It took Dudas a little while to know that he wanted to apply for the Princeton head coaching job. "It was interesting, everybody knew about the head coaching opening but most guessed that the assistant coach was going to get the job," said Dudas.
"I got a call from Michael Cross (Princeton's Executive Associate Director of Athletics) and he said 'Zoltan are you interested in Princeton?' I said the assistant had the biggest chance and he said that wasn't the case and that it was going to be a fair process. I talked it over with family and I decided to go for it. It's one of the top schools and it has a great tradition in fencing. I saw the facilities and the campus and I fell in love with the place."
While the last 2006-07 season didn't add a glorious chapter to that tradition, Dudas is happy with the progress his fen-cers made.
"They started slowly in the season in the dual meets but they got better," said Dudas, who guided the men's team to third place in the Ivy League Championship with the Tiger women taking fourth.
"The match against Harvard for the men was big. I didn't think we could beat them but we pulled the biggest upset of the season. They showed good spirit and a fighting attitude. They really became a team that day."
Dudas likes the way his coaching team has shaped up. "I was lucky to find two great assistant coaches," said Dudas referring to assistants Hristo Hristov and Szilvia Voros. "I want to create a model of what we want to do with three different coaches for three different weapons."
With all systems in place, Dudas can't wait to get things underway in his second season at the helm. "We are a very young team, a lot of freshmen started together with me," said Dudas.
"We had a lot of sophomores so it wasn't that big a change for them. I think they are ready to go with my system. I'm excited, I'm looking forward to next season. October to March is a long season; I'm missing the students. It's strange not having them here."
And with Dudas being no stranger to success, the future looks exciting for the Princeton fencing program.
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