March 28, 2010

Jeff Goldberg, Special to NCAA.com

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - An Israeli won the men's epee competition Sunday at the 2010 NCAA fencing championships. And while Marat Israelian's title makes it four in a row for his home country, even the St. John's sophomore could appreciate that it wasn't quite the result anyone expected.

The epee competition figured to be a coronation for Wayne State's Slava Zingerman, who stood poised to become the first men's epee competitor to win four consecutive individual titles, only adding to his legend.

"In the fencing world, Slava is very big," Israelian said. "Everybody knows him, and in the U.S., they know him more, because in Israel, not everybody knows what the NCAA means. But in the United States, everybody recognizes him."

But history did not come calling Sunday at Harvard's Gordon Indoor Track Center. Not only did Zingerman not complete the four-peat, he did not finish in the top four after the seven-round preliminaries, leaving him out of the semifinal round altogether.

That left it to Israelian to pick up the fallen mantle, a year earlier than he expected. And Israelian responded, defeating Peter French of the Air Force Academy 14-10 in the epee final for his first NCAA title.

"We practice with the same coach," Israelian said. "It was very important for me, and for my coach, that when Slava finished his senior year, I would continue the legacy of Israel. It was very, very important for me to win."

Zingerman entered Sunday's final three preliminary rounds with 10 victories, good enough for fourth place. But in his nine bouts Sunday, Zingerman went 4-5 to fall out of contention. Israelian entered Sunday with 12 victories to lead the epee field and maintained that lead into the semifinals, posting a 7-2 mark for 19 victories overall, three better than the three other semifinalists.

"In epee, it's very hard to win three times in a row," Israelian said. "You saw today, he was seventh. In epee, it's usually not that easy. Him winning three times in a row was a big deal. We actually tried to be 1-2 today, with both us in the finals deciding it between us. But it didn't happen. I think in the middle of the day we knew he wasn't going to finish in the top four and I focused on myself and on St. John's."

The Red Storm finished second overall Sunday, posting 182 victories, nine shy of Penn State, which repeated as national champions. But the close call was in and of itself a major victory for St. John's, which hasn't won a national title since 2001 and finished a distant sixth a year ago.

"Last year, we weren't anywhere close," said Daryl Homer, who captured the individual sabre title with a 15-10 victory over Penn State's Daniel Bak. "This is a huge, huge jump for us. We have some epee girls who did pretty well in the regionals, so hopefully they'll be able to step in and fill the void. And in men's foil, we have some good recruits coming in. Hopefully, we'll be right back after it, if not No. 1, as a team."