While dealing with a back injury last season, senior foil Fatima Largaespada often saw junior epee Alexandra Keft in the training room.
A nagging shoulder injury forced Keft to miss the last three meets of her sophomore season before she competed at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional, placing ninth in epee.
“I had to modify my game,” Keft said. “I couldn’t keep my arm up all the time, so I had to find a different way of fencing, so I would lower my arm and work on counterattacking. … I’ve been able to bring that back into the game now as another thing I can add to my toolkit. So it was a blessing in disguise kind of deal.”
Keft said the shoulder injury forced her to incorporate more footwork into her game, which has carried over into this year.
“Because you can’t do so much, now you have to set up more of your attacks with your legs,” Keft said. “So you’ve got to work on feinting, so trying to draw your opponent out and just moving around on the strip so they don’t know where you’re going to be next and trying to catch them on that.”
After missing time last season, Keft is healthy, practicing and competing regularly. She has fenced in all six of the team’s events this season.
Keft posted an 11-1 record at the Jan. 16 Penn State Invitational, earning three wins each against Columbia University, No. 2 in the CollegeFencing360.com Coaches Poll, and No. 8 Penn State, the two teams in the 2015 NCAA Fencing Championship.
The 5-foot-7-inch junior defeated two All-Americans, Penn State sophomore Jessie Radanovich and Columbia sophomore Mason Speta, to help the epee squad go undefeated and contribute to the team’s 4-1 performance.
CollegeFencing360.com named Keft one of its Primetime Performers for the week of Jan. 11-17.
“She can compete,” coach Nikki Franke said. “She missed a lot of last season because of the injury, and so with her being able to train all fall and get in all of the competitions, that’s helped with building the confidence.”
Keft is hoping to return to the regional competition for a third consecutive year. Having qualified for three consecutive regional competitions and NCAA Championships, Largaespada is making sure she sets a good example.
“I just feel like the environment that we have on the team really helps,” Largaespada said. “If I’m working hard, she’s going to see that I’m working hard, so she’s definitely going to work hard.”
Keft fenced both foil and epee until she was 14, when she decided to focus on her stronger weapon.
Yves Auriol, who coached both the University of Notre Dame’s men’s and women’s fencing programs, coached Keft at the Fencing Academy of Nevada, helping her transition to strictly epee while keeping foil fundamentals.
“Foil is the first weapon, the original weapon, so a lot of the footwork that you find in epee is from foil fencing,” Keft said. “And also just general point work, helping me keep on target and everything, that comes from foil. There were some things that really helped.”
Prior to fencing collegiately, Keft competed at the junior national level. Before Keft walks onto the strip, the junior epee recalls her time at the Junior North American Cup in Nov. 2014.
At the event in Louisville, Kentucky, Keft finished seventh in the junior women’s epee.
“I remember really wanting it, so trying to recreate that mental game,” Keft said. “It was a very close bout too, being able to stay focused with the large crowd always in your ears. Recreating that bout is good. That helps a lot.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.