March 27, 2010

Special to

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Should Notre Dame's Gerek Meinhardt advance to Sunday's final bout in the foil portion of the 2010 NCAA fencing championships, he will not confront his nemesis from the 2009 finals - except in the back of his mind.

Penn State's Nicholas Chinman, who defeated Meinhardt in a classic 15-14 championship bout last March, is here at Harvard's Gordon Indoor Track Center for this weekend's tournament, but is instead competing in epee, trying to deny Wayne State's Slava Zingerman a record fourth consecutive individual title.

If Meinhardt, a sophomore and 2008 U.S. Olympian, reaches the foil final, would have only the memory of last year's defeat to motivate him. Meinhardt led Chinman 11-7 before Chinman stormed back for a 12-11 lead. Meinhardt fell behind 14-13, tying the bout momentarily before Chinman scored the championship-winning touch.

"If I get in a situation with the lead early on, I'm going to remember that," Meinhardt said Saturday. "It's not something I'm going to completely block from my mind, because I need to stay focused at all times. I'm very hungry, definitely, to win it all this year."

Meinhardt is off to a good start in his quest to reach the 2010 finals. After the first four rounds of the men's competition, Meinhardt is third with 11 victories, trailing a different Penn State opponent, David Willette (13 victories) and Yale's Nathaniel Botwinick (12).

The top four competitors in each weapon advance to Sunday's semifinals.

Meinhardt lost a bout in each of his first three rounds before sweeping all three bouts in the fourth round.

"I felt like I struggled today," Meinhardt said. "I wasn't having the best day, but I tried to push through it, and it was nice to get 11 wins. "I think I was just too concerned with how the team was doing early. Every bout is so important.

"I probably got a little stiff when some of the bouts were getting close, and it prevented me from fencing my best. Towards the end of the day, I tried to relax more and just worry about my own fencing. Hopefully tomorrow, after a lot of rest tonight and some relaxation, I'll be re-fueled and have a better day, so I can get as many wins as possible for the team."

Meinhardt is a rising star in the fencing world. At age 16 in 2007, Meinhardt became the youngest U.S. fencing champion and a year later was the youngest U.S. fencer ever to compete in the Olympic Games, advancing to the Round of 16 in Beijing.

After last year's near-miss in the NCAA final, Meinhardt cruised into this year's tournament, winning the Midwest Conference Championship and NCAA Midwest Regional earlier this month. Meinhardt's 11 victories Saturday helped Notre Dame (148 victories) stay within striking distance of St. John's (152) and Penn State (150) for the overall team championship.

"The team event is still close, so it will all come down to [Sunday], obviously," Meinhardt said. "We just want to be in a good position to go out tomorrow and do our best leave everything out there."