It’s not often you see a walk-on freshman make an impact on a nationally-ranked team in college sports, but it’s happening right here on Main Campus.
Freshman Olivia Wynn walked on to a Temple squad that was voted No. 9 in the nation in the first coach’s poll and has been one of the most consistent contributors in some of the team’s competitive events.
This season, Wynn finished 30 out of 81 competitors at the Temple Open, which consists of some of the top fencing schools in the country, including Penn State, Cornell and North Carolina. At the Vassar College meet, Wynn had three wins and one loss at foil as Temple went 4-and-0 as a team. She followed up that performance by going 2-and-1 in State College at the Penn State meet where the Owls went 3-and-2 as a team.
Wynn said her expectations coming into the season were nothing near what she has already accomplished so far in her freshman year.
“I didn’t think I’d really compete much at all, I thought I’d pretty much be on the sidelines cheering on my team,” Wynn said. “I’m rotated in pretty frequently so that was a big surprise and it’s been a great experience.”
Wynn’s teammate and foil-squad leader senior Mikayla Varadi had a different view on Wynn’s talent from the first day of practice. Varadi said she knew the walk-on freshman may not have as much fencing experience as others on the team but she would make up for that with hard work and athleticism.
“On the first day of practice, we had to run two miles and she was the first one to finish, she was by far the fastest person on the team,” Varadi said. “On the very first day of practice I knew that even if she didn’t have a ton of fencing skill-set I knew that her hard work would benefit her so much and take her to great places with her fencing skills.”
Varadi, who is constantly around Wynn during practices and meets, said she has seen Wynn become a better fencer since she came to Temple.
“Olivia has improved vastly, it’s so awesome as the foil-squad captain to see her come on as a walk-on and see her flourish,” Varadi said. “She’s holding her own and she hasn’t been fencing that long, she’s taking the feedback and she’s just putting it on the strip and the victories she had definitely show her improvement.”
Wynn was a late-bloomer when it comes to fencing – she didn’t start until her freshman year of high school. The Somerville, N.J., native only did fencing seasonally before joining the Owls foil squad.
“I haven’t done too much so this is the top of my experience,” Wynn said after competing in the Philadelphia Invitational on Jan. 26.
Fencing coach Nikki Franke, a former Olympic fencer, has seen Wynn grow to become someone she can now count on to win bouts. Franke was very happy with Wynn’s performance after the Philadelphia Invitational, when the Owls finished 5-and-1, only losing to No. 7 Northwestern.
“[Wynn] did a great job. I’m so pleased with Olivia, not that she just won bouts, she just fenced well,” Franke said. “She did some really good things that we’ve been working on, she has just improved so much.”
Wynn, though, said she won’t let her early success get to her head. Coming here as a walk-on, she said she always has a chip on her shoulder that most fencers don’t have. The freshman knows that there’s always room for improvement and that she can always get better, she said.
“The ceiling can never be reached,” Wynn said. “I just hope I get better and better and I’ll never be satisfied but I just want to be the best that I can be.”
While Franke has been pleased by what she has seen so far from Wynn, she, like Wynn, knows there’s always room for improvement. Franke strives for excellence from her team and will always see areas where it can improve. Franke wasn’t ready to say whether or not she was satisfied with what she’s gotten from Wynn in her freshman year.
“It’s not over yet so we’ll see, ask me at the end of the year and I’ll let you know,” Franke said. “She just has to keep working hard and it’s going to come together because she’s a very good athlete and is very determined.”
Wynn and the Owls will now set their minds on a rematch with Northwestern as they travel to Chicago for the Northwestern multi-meet this weekend.
Anthony Bellino can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Bellino_Anthony.