Last year, freshman Miranda Litzinger was fencing against 12-year-olds.
Litzinger, like many high school fencers, was forced to join fencing clubs because many high schools don’t offer the sport.
“I think I learned the value of a balanced program,” Litzinger said. “I’ve been fencing 12-year-olds for the past five years, so it is really nice to finally have people to go out with on the track and the weight room.”
Rachael Clark has had a different type of transition.
“The biggest challenge for me is that I went to a club where I was the only girl, so it’s weird going from being the only girl to being on a team full of girls,” Clark said. “That is definitely a huge adjustment.”
With practice after class, individual lessons scattered throughout the week and weight room training after practice four times a week, coach Nikki Franke said the freshmen have to balance everything while transitioning to the next level. With six freshmen on the roster, the group makes up one-third of the team.
“There is a lot of demand on their time, so they have to get used to the whole collegian scene and college fencing, which is very different,” Franke said.
Litzinger said the hardest adjustment for her has been competing on a team, as it is something she has never experienced before.
“I picked fencing partially because I loved it … but mostly because it’s an individual sport and I like it that way,” Litzinger said. “I have to act as a team and working with other people was really confusing to me.”
“Most of them come out of a club, so they are used to the individual tournaments and now going into a team format, that’s what they have to adjust to,” Franke said.
Noelle Baptiste, who was a captain for her high school fencing team, said she understands she is no longer at the top of her team.
“[I] was going from always finishing Top 3 for the past four years to the bottom of a Division I team,” Baptiste said. “That change is really drastic, so it’s been a little difficult.”
Baptiste, who lives by the motto “when opportunity meets hard work, success in inevitable,” said she wants to prove herself as a freshman by making it to the NCAA tournament.
Although the freshmen have a long way to go, Franke said she’s excited for the future.
“They are very ambitious,” Franke said. “They are hard workers and they are talented.”
Freshman Alexandra Keft described her classmates as “perfectionists” and Baptiste said the group is like sisters.
“We love each other,” Baptiste said. “It is just great to have a lot of people your age.”
“They are really wonderful girls,” Keft said. “We get along very well and we like to help each other in practice and on the strip, too while we are fencing and give each other a little push. That helps a lot for the bonding experience.”
Franke, who is now in her 42nd season coaching the Owls, said every freshman class is different.
“Everyone is unique, so they are different in their own way,” Franke said. “They have their own personalities but that is a good thing. That is what makes coaching interesting.”
Franke said she’s looking forward to watching the young group develop during the next four years.
“It is always fun to see them grow and mature,” Franke said. “As a coach you see them as freshmen and then they are seniors. You just want to sit back and enjoy the time that you are able to have them on the team.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MikeG2511.