Fencing season to start with Saturday’s Temple Open

The Owls will face Penn State, which finished last season as a top-five Division I team, among other schools at the Liacouras Center.

Junior sabre Jessica Rockford (left) and sophomore sabre Kerry Plunkett practice at the Student Pavilion on Oct. 10. | MIKE NGUYEN / FILE PHOTO

Temple had a historic 2016-17 season.

The Owls finished the campaign with a 34-9 record and No. 8 ranking in the CollegeFencing360.com Women’s Coaches Poll. The Owls’ 34 wins surpassed their 28 from the 2013-14 season as the most in a single season in program history. The team topped out at No. 6 in Division I to achieve its highest-ever ranking.

After last year’s success and moving into a new practice facility this semester, Temple is looking to finish with a higher ranking this season. The Owls start their season on Saturday at the 39th-annual Temple Open at the Liacouras Center. Fencers compete as individuals at the event, which will host more than 30 schools and about 600 competitors.

Many schools on the East Coast start their seasons with the Temple Open, which is a “good starting and practice tournament just to have fun with fencing,” junior epee Ally Micek said.

“It’s our starting point as well and also where we can gauge how our training has been going up until this point and what we need to continue to work on for the upcoming season,” Micek said. “It’s really fun because we get to compete against schools like Penn State and [the University of North Carolina] along with other top teams.”

Penn State finished last season ranked No. 4, and the Tar Heels received six top-10 votes in the final poll. Columbia University will also compete at the Temple Open. The Lions finished last season tied for first in the CollegeFencing360.com poll with the University of Notre Dame, the Division I champion.

In last year’s Temple Open, Becca Stanford won the foil event by beating Kennedy Lovelace, who competed in her first event as a freshman. Junior foil Auset Muhammad finished in a tie for third. Three epees and all four sabre fencers made it to the top eight.

Temple wants to do even better this year.

“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us,” said coach Nikki Franke, who is 19 wins away from 800 in her career. “I think that getting these tournaments in at the beginning of the season now gives us not only a chance to see how people have been performing in practice, but see how people will do in competition and how they adjust to certain situations and different types of opponents.”

Safa Ibrahim, Temple’s captain, is the lone senior on the team. Ibrahim made her third straight NCAA championship meet last season and earned All-American honors.

The junior class is the largest on the team with seven fencers, including Muhammad and sabre Blessing Olaode, who has an 83-44 career record.

“All of them have already shown great leadership,” Franke said. “They came in this year and have really stepped up and been setting the tone for practice every day and conditioning. They’ve introduced what we’re about as Temple Fencing to all the new players on the team.”

Sabre Eva Hinds, epee Marielle Luke and foils Megan Ross and Kari Weiner make up this year’s freshmen class. Luke has been Alaska’s top-ranked epee fencer since 2013, and Weiner, who is from Bielefeld, Germany, placed eighth at the 2017 German Junior Championships.

Franke has high expectations for the freshmen and said they should all contribute significantly this season.

“It’s a big transition for them to get used to how we do things but they’ve been very open to what we want them to work on,” Micek said. “They’re all great fencers, have great attitudes and love to be a part of this team. I’m excited to see how they grow and do during this season.”

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