March 28, 2010

By Jeff Goldberg

Special to NCAA.com

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Whether measured in years or decades, Penn State is once again a repeat fencing champion.

The Nittany Lions continued their 20-year mastery of the sport Sunday, drawing away on the final day of the men's competition at Harvard's Gordon Indoor Track Center to secure back-to-back NCAA team championships for the third time in program history and their 12th national championship overall, dating back to 1990.

Penn State collected 191 victories over the four-day tournament, pulling away from St. John's (182) and Notre Dame (180) to become the first repeat fencing champions since the program, led by coach Emmanuil G. Kaidanov, won six titles in a row from 1995-2000.

"This particular team is very ambitious," Kaidanov said. "Repeating now is almost impossible. Before we started this competition, we were not the favorites, but they rose to the occasion."

Penn State, which has now won three of the past four championships and four overall in the decade, also won back-to-back titles in 1990 and '91, the first two years the NCAA awarded combined men's and women's team titles.

"It means so much more, because this team is my best friends," said Penn State senior Anastasia Ferdman, who won the 2009 women's epee title. "To have the team win for a third time, I'm just really happy. It's always nice to make history. This time, back-to-back, is motivation to keep going. I hope they win again next year. I know we have the skill to win."

The Nittany Lions clinched the team title during the seventh and final round of the men's foil competition after St. John's enjoyed the overall team lead after each of the first three days of competition.

But while the Lions enjoyed the overall title, St. John's was rewarded with men's individual championships in sabre and epee.

Sophomore Daryl Homer, who lost the 2009 sabre title bout by one touch to Penn State's Aleksander Ochocki, defeated another Nittany Lion, Daniel Bak, 15-10. Homer, from the Bronx, N.Y., trailed 7-5 before rallying for seven of the next eight touches to take control of the match.

"I definitely wanted to make sure this time the score wasn't going to be 14-14," Homer said. "This time, I wanted to make sure I stayed focused throughout the whole bout."
In epee, fellow St. John's sophomore Marat Israelian of Ashkelon, Israel outlasted a fierce challenge from Peter French of the Air Force Academy, scoring the final three touches in the final 10 seconds of the three-round bout for a 14-10 victory.

Israelian had led 11-7 with the final three-minute period ticking under 60 seconds when French scored touches with 56, 44 and 28 seconds left to close within 11-10. But Israelian stopped French's momentum with a touch with six seconds left to go ahead, 12-10, then added two more touches to seal the title.

"Of course, it's very satisfying to win as individuals, but we have a lot of teammates that are back home and to win as a team, I would have appreciated it much more," Israelian said. "We're supporting 30 guys and girls back home and representing our university. So I think if we would have won as a team, I'd have been much happier."

Wayne State's Slava Zingerman, who was attempting to become the first male competitor to win four consecutive individual epee titles, failed to qualify for the semifinals, finishing seventh overall after the seven preliminary rounds, two victories shy of the top four.

In foil, Notre Dame sophomore Gerek Meinhardt scored the final five touches in a 15-9 victory for his first national championship. Meinhardt, the San Francisco native and youngest Olympian in U.S. history, joined Homer as a 2009 runner-up who lost, 15-14, only to capture gold Sunday.

"[Last year] did serve as motivation," Meinhardt said. "I learned a lot from it. If it did get to 14-14, I would have been more ready, but thankfully I was able to keep it from getting that close."