Fencing: Impressive showing at home starts season

Nearly two weeks after a successful showing at the Penn State Open in which three fencing team members advanced to the semifinals, the Owls hosted the 26th annual Temple Fencing Collegiate Open, one of the

Nearly two weeks after a successful showing at the Penn State Open in which three fencing team members advanced to the semifinals, the Owls hosted the 26th annual Temple Fencing Collegiate Open, one of the biggest collegiate tournaments in the country, this past weekend.

Twenty-eight universities and colleges attended the annually growing two-day competition, which was divided by gender and fighting style. Women of all fighting styles dueled Saturday, with men competing on Sunday.

The Owls led the way in post-tournament standings for Foil, earning five of the top ten individual player rankings. Freshman Sabrina Shapiro was the overall runner-up, with senior captain Jenna Remmert finishing a close third. Freshman Nina Gernes and sophomore Samantha Myles took fifth and sixth, respectively. Maryanne Forsythe, a senior, placed 10th. The overall winner of the Foil competition was Penn’s Abby Emerson.

The Owls did not have as much success in Sabre, where Haverford’s Halli Melnitsky took the top spot. Temple sophomore Kristine Jones and freshman Ashlee Phillips tied for overall third place in Sabre.

Similar to Sabre, several Owls finished strong in Epee, but failed to take the top spot as Penn State’s Andrea Wine earned that honor. Sophomore Brianna Ferrara finished third overall.

While each of the three fighting styles have similarities, there are subtle differences to Epee, Foil, and Sabre, like their attack, block, and counterattack. If the order is illegally disrupted, points are not necessarily rewarded, even if a hit was placed within the proper range.

With the exception of the Epee style, fencing could best be described in driving terms, Ecker said.

“In Foil and Sabre, there is ‘right of way,'” Ecker said. “… If you’ve established your attack first, you can be awarded the point. The referees look for a change of position, from preparation to attack stance.”

Few understand this better then assistant coach Brad Baker, who referees at the professional level. In July, Baker claimed the Division I-A men’s Sabre championship at the 2005 United States Fencing National Championships. 

Having a background like his at the Owls’ disposal has helped the team improve.

“As a ref, I go to all the national events and I am constantly exposed to the top coaches and players,” Baker said. “I see what others are doing, and more importantly, how the rules and their interpretations subtly change.”

As impressive as his resume is, Baker said he is pleased to be able to work and develop under head coach Nikki Franke, whose teams have earned 31 postseason appearances in her 33 seasons. Additionally, she serves as the director of fencing at Temple. Franke said the success of her teams goes beyond their performances on the fencing strip.

“Academics is our primary focus, and we’ve averaged a 3.0 or higher every semester,” Franke said. “Our ladies should perform in the classroom and on the fencing strip.”  

Some of the members of the fencing team said they enjoy their coaching staff’s practice regimen, which includes conditioning, weight training, and four or five practices a week.

While the coaches emphasized classroom performance, Shapiro said she is most impressed with the team’s adhesiveness. A Maryland native, Shapiro is only now experiencing team fencing, having been a member of the District of Columbia Fencing Club during her high school career. She said the difference is “unimaginable.”

“It’s great to finally have a coach [and a team] … where I can expand my play and improve,” Shapiro said. “The team is so close, and we do really well together; it’s a mental advantage to have your team behind you.”

The team’s hot start has them thinking about the NCAA Tournament. The Owls are young, but neither Franke nor Baker expressed doubt about the abundant potential of the team.

Andrew Schwartz can be reached at andrew.schwartz@temple.edu.

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