March 23, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The University of Notre Dame fencing team may not have finished as high in the team standings as they would have liked, but Irish eyes were smiling regardless as graduate student Gerek Meinhardt won his second NCAA men's foil title. Meinhardt becomes the sixth two-time champion in Irish history, and the second this weekend after Lee Kiefer's women's foil title.
"I feel great for Gerek. From my side, he is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity type of fencer to be a coach to," associate head coach and foil specialist Gia Kvararskhelia says. "He is an incredible athlete, but even more of an incredible human being. I am just so proud to be associated with him."
Meinhardt wasn't the only Irish fencer in the finals either, as epeeist Garrett McGrath ousted Duke's Alessio Santoro, 13-9 in the semifinals. McGrath narrowly lost to Yevgeny Karyuchenko (St. John's), 15-13 to finish second.
"I really, really wanted to win that bout; I can't describe to you how much I wanted to win," McGrath says.
"Obviously I'm proud as a coach of where he finished, but losing a final is never something you appreciate," epee assistant coach Cedric Loiseau states. "It's great that Garrett is the first men's epeeist to advance [in the semifinals] in nine years, and it's a great improvement for him and we will only continue to get stronger next year."
In Meinhardt's semifinal, he faced Penn State's Nobuo Bravo. The Irishman scored the first two touches of the bout to go up 2-0, before Bravo answered with three straight scores to take the lead, 3-2.
Not to be deterred, Meinhardt answered with a resounding three points of his own to take the lead 6-3, only for Bravo to score three himself and tie the bout once more at 6-6.
Meinhardt and Bravo went back and forth to up the ante to 8-8 and then Meinhardt once more scored three straight to take the lead, 11-8. Bravo score twice but Meinhardt answered with three points, making the score 14-10. Bravo was able to score once more before Meinhardt clinched the semifinal 15-11 with a right-shoulder touch.
In the Championship bout, Meinhardt squared off against Bravo's Penn State cohort David Willette, and struggled early on as Willette scored the first four touches unanswered. Meinhardt battled back though and earned two tallies on the scoreboard before Willette earned another point to make it 5-2.
The bout see-sawed between the two after that, with Meinhardt scoring a touch, then Willette and then Meinhardt score twice to come within one point of his Nittany Lion foe. Willette would not give up that easily however, scoring three straight to make the score 9-5.
Meinhardt answered with three of his own, once again coming within one point of Willette's 9-8 lead. Willete scored a quick touch to make the score 10-8, but Meinhardt seized his opportunity and scored three straight to take the lead, 11-10.
Willette tied it, 11-11, but Meinhardt scored next. Willette answered, and just like that the bout was tied once more, 12-12. Meinhardt was a man on a mission though, and scored the last three successive touches to clinch the title, 15-12.
In the epee semifinal, McGrath drew first blood, quickly going up 2-0 before Santoro scored a chest touch. He scored two more points to move up, 3-2, but McGrath was quick to answer and tied the bout 3-3.
Santoro continued to fight valiantly, scoring twice to increase his lead to 5-3, but McGrath went on a tear and scored three straight touches to take the lead, 6-5. Santoro tied it 6-6 but McGrath did not give up and scored twice more to maintain his lead, 8-6.
The two traded touches back and forth until the score stood at 10-8, and from there McGrath demonstrated just why he deserved to be in the semifinals by scoring twice more to increase his lead, 12-8. Santoro and McGrath scored a dual touch to increase the score to 13-9 in favor of McGrath, and that was the score displayed as time expired.
Moving into the final, McGrath scored the first two points but Karyuchenko was quick to counter, making the score 2-2. McGrath scored twice more before the bout teetered between the two for awhile.
McGrath managed to gain a strong lead towards the end of the bout, scoring three straight before allowing another touch against him, and the score stood at 12-10 heading into the final round. Karyuchenko quickly tied it 12-12 and went up, 14-12, but McGrath made one last touch before Karyuchenko sealed the win, 15-13 with a touch to the torso.
"It was a very hard bout, a great bout hands down, but I knew what I needed to do and I just couldn't follow through. We're both very strong in areas that the other is strong at too, and in the end I was tired and just ran out of steam," McGrath says.
"I've got to get two touches better for next year, but the plan for next year is already in place and we'll have a real shot at the title next year."
Men's sabreists John Hallsten and Kevin Hassett improved somewhat over their first day record, as Hallsten finished just outside the top 12 at 13th, while Hassett placed 18th. The duo combined to give the Irish 19 points and helped them settle in to sixth place in the team standings. McGrath's second-place finish earned the team 14 points, and Meinhardt and Kristjan Archer - who finished 10th with a 13-10 mark and earned third-team All-America accolades - earned the team 33 points, bringing the sum total to 138.