Former fencer adapts to coaching role

Alex Keft, who competed on the epee squad from 2013-17, is a volunteer assistant coach this season.

Alex Keft, a 2017 kinesiology alumna, coaches during practice on Friday at the Student Pavilion. After finishing her career with a 145-95 overall record last year, Keft became a volunteer assistant coach for the team this season. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Alex Keft has to get used to a different type of a relationship with her former teammates.

As a volunteer assistant coach, Keft is learning to adjust to the “separation” between coach and player, she said.

“It’s weird because I have to watch what I talk about with the girls,” Keft said. “I have to be aware that I am acting a bit more professional being a coach. It could be difficult since I have been around most of the team the last few years.”

This August, Keft joined Nikki Franke’s coaching staff for the 2017-18 season. Becoming a coach is an idea Keft considered during the past year, she said. After conversations between Keft and the coaching staff last year and in the summer, Keft took the role.

Keft fenced at Temple from 2013-17, accumulating a career record of 145-95. She served as the captain of the epee squad during her senior year.

Keft now works as a personal trainer at the City Fitness in Fishtown a few days per week and comes to Temple’s practices on days her work schedule allows.

“Towards the end of last year, I wanted to be on the coaching staff for this year,” Keft said. “I know these girls’ style, I know what makes them tick, so I knew this would be a good fit.”

Keft is a big help to the epee fencers, senior Safa Ibrahim said. Because Keft has practiced on the fencing strip with most of the epees, she has a rapport with them that makes it easier to coach them. Epee fencing tends to have a defensive style, Keft said, so knowing fencers’ tendencies is important because epees typically rely on counter moves.

“She really understands how we fence,” Ibrahim said. “We were together the past three years, so she knows what my technique is and what my tendencies are. Since she has seen me and the other fencers a good amount of times, she can pick up the little mistakes we make.”

Since Keft has the experience of a four-year collegiate fencer, she is a help to the only freshman on the epee squad, Marielle Luke.

Luke said everyone on the epee squad has done a good job of helping her, and Keft is a big contributor to that. When the foil, epee and sabre squads separate in practice, Keft often goes with the epees.

“She has been really supportive of me ever since we met,” Luke said. “Less than 365 days ago, Alex was in my shoes as a collegiate fencer. She is a huge help because of how everything is fresh in her mind. It always helps to have a coach you a can really relate to.”

When coaching, Keft tries to visualize everything as if it were a meet because “everything is faster in a meet,” she said. During meets, each squad is on a separate strip so it is hard for every coach to be present with everyone, she said.

When she is the only coach with the epee squad in practice, she tries to make quick adjustments to get them to simulate a meet experience.

Keft said her familiarity with her teammates’ personalities and their approaches to meets in addition to her experiences against the Owls’ upcoming opponents will help her coach the team this year.

“Since she graduated last year, her mind is still really fresh,” Ibrahim said. “She can give us tips not only about ourselves, but about our opponents coming up in later meets. Since she has first-hand experience with a good amount of our competition, she can help us develop.”

Keft is going to wait until after this season to decide if she wants to coach again next year. She is taking a year-by-year approach, she said, because she is still thinking about applying to other schools to advance her education.

She graduated with a degree in kinesiology concentrating in pre-health professions and wants to study physical therapy.

“I am using this as a gap year to explore my options,” Keft said. “Being able to have a job and coach here allows me to weigh all my options. I might want to go back to school, but if I enjoy this a lot, I can possibly see myself continuing a career in coaching.”

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