The fencing team was not always the powerhouse it is today.
At one point, it was just a club team.
Then, it was an up-and-coming program.
Now, under the direction of legendary coach Nikki Franke, it is one of the 10 best teams in the country.
“I’ve just got great support, building from nothing to becoming a Top 10 team,” Franke said. “Before, there was just the club.”
Franke, who has been the backbone of the program for its 37-year run, began fencing during her senior year when a program opened up at her high school.
“I took to it, you know,” she said. “I really enjoyed doing it and decided to continue in college.”
She went on to attend City University of New York at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, N.Y., where there was also a program.
“That’s when I started getting serious,” Franke said.
After honing her skills in New York, she made the trip down to Philadelphia and enrolled in Temple’s graduate program for public health, while simultaneously creating the fencing program as it is known today.
“The first team was all beginners. No one had fenced before,” Franke said. “They were all inexperienced. There were no scholarships. There was no recruiting.”
Nowadays, things are much different.
The Owls get players from all over the country to come to North Philadelphia and fence.
“We get girls from California, girls from Texas, coming here for the fencing program,” Franke said, “and the university as well.”
That has all been possible due to the help Franke and the fencing program have received from Temple, which she says has been helpful to the program, despite fencing’s status as a non-revenue sport.
“Over time, we’ve received a tremendous amount of support from the athletic department and university administration,” she said, “not only to start our program but to move our program into a national level.”
Franke, who was selected to be a part of the U.S. Olympic fencing team twice, in 1976 and 1980, has a long and storied career in fencing. Despite those accolades, she is never content.
“One is never satisfied,” she said. “I mean, we’re going in the right direction. We have a very strong program. We’re a top 10 team, and we’ve been one for seven years.”
So it comes as no surprise that she’s always looking to do better.
“Our goal is to be a top 5 team,” Franke said. “That’s the direction we want to go in. We have a fairly young squad this year, so we’ll see what happens.”
UP NEXT: TEMPLE OPEN
Coach Franke and the fencing team will host the Temple Open, collegiate fencing’s largest individual tournament, at McGonigle Hall on Saturday and Sunday.
Fencers from Massachusetts, Indiana and Florida will travel to campus with high hopes.
It is one of the only times the fencing team, which is nationally ranked among the top 10, will be competing at home.
“We see ourselves as being very competitive among the other top 10 teams in the country right now,” senior Kaitlyn Uckert said.
Out of the 17 fencers, 11 are returning from last season, giving the team four seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and five freshmen.
“We tend to do a lot of substitutions,” assistant coach Brad Baker said.
“Everyone gets playing time,” Uckert added.
Mike Podlogar can be reached at email@example.com.