Franke’s fencers eye Top Five spot

After defeating No. 9 Penn and then placing three finalists at the North American Cup, coach Nikki Franke predicts a return to the Top 5 for her club.

Temple has a nationally recognized powerhouse on Main Campus. It’s not named the men’s basketball team, and its coach’s name isn’t Fran Dunphy.

Coach Nikki Franke has led the fencing team to national rankings in the past few seasons, and when the first national polls for 2010 are released next week, she said she is almost certain a Top 10 ranking is in store for Temple again.

“We have a program that is more than reputable,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “I don’t think we’re in the Top Five yet, but we can be one of those teams soon.”

Fresh off the Philadelphia Invitational – where the Owls defeated No. 9 Penn for the first time in four years and fell by just five points to last year’s No. 7-ranked team, Northwestern – the Owls headed out to San Jose, Calif., this past weekend for the North American Cup, a national singles tournament that featured some of the best North American fencers.

Temple placed finalists in all three categories – the epee, sabre and foil. Sophomore Jill Bratton placed sixth in the epee and sophomore Alyssa Lomuscio finished eighth in the foil. But sophomore Kamali Thompson’s star shined brightest. The sabre specialist claimed fifth place and turned heads doing so.

“In this tournament, to make the Top 32 is significant and is an excellent result,” Franke said. “We are very excited about these results, and coupled with our team victories last weekend against Penn, Sacred Heart and Farleigh Dickinson, it only looks like good things are coming. [Each fencer also posted a winning record individually in the Philadelphia Invitational].”

Franke is in her 38th season as the director of the fencing program. In that time, she has compiled a more than impressive record of 588-150-1 (this year, she is 4-1 so far).

The sport of fencing may be overlooked by some on Main Campus, but the Owls have a program with a huge reputation, and Franke said she wants to make that known.

“These girls work hard, and they have the support from our great administration, and it’d be great to get more recognition from the students and faculty,” Franke said.

Seniors Kristin Howell (epee) and Melissa Parker (foil) have already earned recognition through previous All-American status and a combined record of 66-24 during their three years. Now, Franke will try to turn them and the rest of her team into NCAA champions. She said she would even like to produce an Olympian or two if she can, as Franke herself competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics.

“We prepare the girls for that kind of thing,” Franke said. “It’s something that I would love to have happen, but the national groups they get into after Temple are a good thing, too. We’ve really had some people who could have been Olympic fencers.”

Franke just signed two fencers to National Letters of Intent who could potentially be her first to go for the gold. Epiphany Georges of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Tasia Ford of West Sand Lake, N.Y., are two promising young fencers who caught the eye of the Hall of Famer.

Temple cannot afford to bask in its California glory for too long. The Owls will get right back to work to prepare for a multi-meet that will include the Penn State Nittany Lions and then the challenging Duke Invitational.

Christian Audesirk can be reached at christian.audesirk@temple.edu.

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