Coaches, facilities and competitive success can only take a collegiate program so far. In a sport like fencing, where the student-athletes have no big payday rewarding the world’s elite, the best programs need to offer something deeper.
“They are my family,” Temple senior Gina DeIeso said. “They’re my home away from home.”
DeIeso, the veteran leader of Temple’s foil squad, finished a remarkable 18th in the NCAA women’s fencing championships last weekend In Kenosha, Wisc. As a team, the Owls did even better, notching a seventh-place finish in the overall competition.
But DeIeso nearly ended up far from where she is today. Her father passed away during her freshman year, and she almost transferred to Fairleigh Dickinson to be closer to her mother and sisters.
“Actually the reason why I didn’t transfer was that I couldn’t fence against these teammates that I’d built relationships with,” DeIeso said. “I just didn’t want to be on any other team besides this one if I was going to fence.
“Fairleigh Dickinson is only like 20 minutes away (from home), and at that time I didn’t want to be here (at Temple),” DeIeso said. “I wanted to be at home with my mom and my sisters. But then I realized that it wasn’t the best thing. They (the Temple fencing team) were there for me when I went through that, so that’s why I stayed.”
The JPRA major has logged eight years as a competitive fencer and a few more standing on the sport’s sidelines.
“My sisters fenced in high school,” DeIeso said. “When they started, I was only nine, so I was always dragged to go and watch them fence. I wanted to try it.”
And now DeIeso is in her final season of collegiate eligibility, looking seriously at the end of her competitive career. She says she probably won’t continue to compete, but may eventually turn to coaching.
“The fencing part, I think I’ll be glad when it’s over,” DeIeso said a few weeks ago. “It’s not being part of this team anymore that will be hard. I’ll miss the trips that we take and they fun that we do make out of practice, even when we don’t want to be there.”
To watch DeIeso fence, it’s difficult to believe that she will walk away from the sport and not look back. Her style is emotional and gritty.
“My strength as a fencer is that 99.9 percent of the time, probably 100 percent of the time, I’ll never give up during a bout,” she said. “Even if it’s direct elimination and I’m losing 14-1 or 14-2, I’ll never give up until that person actually beats me.
But there are times, according to DeIeso, that her competitive nature can get the better of her.
“I don’t have all the patience in the world,” she said. “Sometimes I’m just like, ‘Let me just get this bout over with. I can do this. Let me just go out there and win, be done with it and that’s it.’ But sometimes you can get in trouble doing that.”
As the highly ranked Owl fencers finish their excellent season, DeIeso faces the end of her college career, bracing herself for the moment she steps awy from her second family.
“I thrive on competition. I love my teammates,” she said. “That’s mainly the reason why I stayed in; I wanted to be a part of this team. Especially this team.”