Greg Mueller began fencing before Wilbur Wheeler was born.

Still, Wheeler, 15, the two-time under-16 national champion, defeated the 34-year-old Mueller, 5-0, yesterday in the preliminary round of the men's foil competition in the National Fencing Championships at George Mason University.

The foil final round of 24 begins today at 3 p.m. The tournament continues through Saturday with men's saber and epee and women's foil and epee categories.

Wheeler, a 5-foot, 95-pound ninth grader from Cleveland, defeated Thomas Lansford of Notre Dame, Ind., in his second match, 5-2.

"I've been waiting for Wheeler to grow some more target space," said Mueller, a former Midwest champion. "But he's so quick and he's very intelligent. He let me beat on his blade, let me be aggressive, and totally took my plan of attack away from me. I needed a couple of steps before I could score, but he just moved up closer to me so I couldn't maneuver."

Easy victories like this don't surprise Wheeler, a second alternate on the World Junior Team.

"I've faced him and beaten him before, so I knew what to expect," Wheeler said. "But a lot of times opponents older than me get frustrated when they can't beat me. I think my size is an advantage."

Wheeler took up the foil four years ago. He has compiled approximately a 300-10 record (neither he nor his coach, Bill Raith, can recall the exact totals), and has won the Northern Ohio divisional senior championship, the under-20 Midwest championship, and placed fifth in the under-20 national finals.

"I like the individualism of fencing," Wheeler said. "I never much cared for other sports. But this is something I want to keep doing in college and once I get out. It's nice because all my friends read about me in the paper."

"Wilbur is still growing, and he has excellent technique," said Raith. "What he lacks in size he makes up in quickness and concentration. Perfect practice makes perfect, and he works awfully hard.

"He gets slapped around real bad sometimes," said Raith, who plans to take Wheeler to either France or Italy for a five-month intensive training period next year. "He'll come back from matches with big green welts on his legs. Most people just go with brute force, but this sport doesn't take strength."