COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Fencing began at an early age for Stanford‘s Alex Massialas.
Oh, he did all the stuff that most young kids do, Alex says. He climbed trees. He played soccer and basketball.
But when your dad is a three-time Olympian in fencing and is one of the top fencing coaches in the United States, things are different for a boy growing up in northern California.
“My whole life, I lived in this house with foils everywhere. All my dad’s trophies and swords, masks,” Massialas said. “The whole sport from the beginning, it really intrigued me.”Greg Massialas, Alex’s dad, competed at the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games. He would have competed at the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, but that was the Olympics boycotted by the United States.
Alex grew up with all that fencing history while still playing other sports. He competed in soccer, basketball and swimming at Drew School, the high school he attended in San Francisco when he wasn’t traveling around the world for one of his many World Cup international fencing tournaments. At 17 and still a senior at Drew, he earned a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team.
One year later, he won his first NCAA championship as a freshman at Stanford. Sunday, he earned his second All-America honor by finishing third at the NCAA Fencing Championships at Ohio State’s French Field House and St. John Arena. His finish helped Stanford finish ninth in the team standings.
In two years at Stanford, Massialas has won more than 100 matches. He won 54-of-60 this season, including winning every match at the NCAA West Regional and winning 20-of-24 at the national championships.
“You get kids on the team sometimes that are in the middle of the pack. Somebody like Alex, he comes in already baked. He really already is a champion before he gets there,” Stanford coach Lisa Milgram said. “His squad is better because of him.”
Before Alex was even 8 years old, the fencing bug had bit him, primarily because Greg Massialas started the Massialas Foundation, a San Francisco-based fencing club. It would become one of the top training centers in the United States for foil fencers, including Alex, a 2012 Olympian who finished fourth in the team competition and 13th in the individual men’s foil.
“All of a sudden my dad started his own fencing club,” Massialas said. “I had to go check it out. I spent a decent amount of time in the fencing club myself. Once I got it and fell in the love with the sport, I thought it was really cool.”
The Massialas Foundation not only developed Alex’s love for fencing, but it was the place where many of Alex’s friendships with other national team fencers were started. Gerek Meinhardt, a Notre Dame fencer who won his first NCAA championship Sunday and achieved the No. 1 world ranking in men’s foil in January, became close friends with Alex, although the friendship really began even earlier when Gerek took piano lessons from Alex’s mom, Chwan-Hui Chen, before he turned to fencing.
David Willette of Penn State, who knocked off Massialas in the semifinals of the national championships on Sunday, and Meinhardt are both coached by Greg Massialas and are national teammates of Alex.
Eventually, all this fencing led to Alex Massialas heading to Stanford, where Milgram is delighted to have him and hopes to have his younger sister, Sabrina, as a fencing recruit, as well.
“Having a high profile Olympic-level athlete like that brings attention to other kids in the program,” Milgram said. “Everybody wants to come to our place. Recruiting has gotten better, publicity has gotten better.”
Massialas is hugely popular among the Stanford crowd. Between matches at the national championships this week, you were more likely to see him greeting somebody in the stands or talking strategy with a teammate than seeing him sitting silently in a chair awaiting his next match.
“I like to stay friendly with a lot of the parents,” Massialas said. “I’m good friends with a lot of them. Whenever I see anyone, I have to go greet them, whether that means jumping into the stands to give someone a hug or give them a handshake. I’ve just got to do it.”
“He’s a very personable young man,” Milgram said. “He’s a social force on the team, as well as an academic force on the team. A good teammate to everybody.”