In Nikki Franke’s 44 years of coaching at Temple, she’s witnessed her fair share of freshman classes.
This season’s group of freshmen provides a nice balance for Franke — one minute they act immature and joke around with each other, and the next they get their game-faces on and stay attentive in practice.
“What is really nice about this group is number one, they keep me laughing,” Franke said. “They’re very funny. But also they work very hard and they never complain.”
“And for a coach, that’s really a joy,” she added. “It kind of keeps you going because they don’t underestimate their opponents and they don’t overthink about themselves and so they have a very good balance. Their heads aren’t too swelled. They know they have a lot of work still to do.”
While several of Temple’s five freshmen have stood out, sabre Malia Hee has put up better numbers than all but one freshman in the past six years.
With a 70-13 record, Hee has set the record for most wins by a sabre in a single season. Sabre Kamali Thompson set the record in the 2010-11 season with 55 wins. Only two Temple freshmen have put up 50-plus wins in a single season in the past six years.
Junior epee Safa Ibrahim posted a 72-28 record in the 2014-15 season, while epee Rachael Clark went 53-21 in the 2013-14 season.
Franke said Hee was one of the most heavily recruited fencers in her class. Hee received attention from Ohio State University, the University of Notre Dame, Penn State and Duke University, all of which are ranked in the Top 10 of the CollegeFencing360.com Women’s Coaches Poll. Temple is ranked seventh.
Hee started her freshman campaign with an early-season first-place finish at the Penn State Open on Nov. 19. Hee knocked off two consecutive opponents 15-14 to win the tournament, including Penn State senior sabre and three-time All-American Teodora Kakhiani in the semifinals. Freshman Kerry Plunkett tied for third in the sabre competition.
College fencing is more of a mental game than club fencing, Hee said. But senior epee Alexandra Keft said that’s one of the reasons why Hee can outmaneuver opponents on the strip this season.
“She’s just relentless,” Keft said. “I think when you see her fence, she’s intensely focused. And it doesn’t matter if the other person gains a point. She’s able to refocus really quickly which is something you develop later on in your game. So to see a freshman be able to take it on that quickly, and not let anything rattle her, like she’s been able to bring her mind straight back and that’s really cool to see.”
Freshman foil Kennedy Lovelace went 12-3 at the Fairleigh Dickinson University Invitational on Feb. 11 tying for the most wins of anyone at the meet. The Owls broke their single-season program record for wins at the meet. The team knocked off No. 1 Princeton University during Sunday’s Temple Invitational.
Two weekends ago, the Owls sent two freshmen, Lovelace and epee Camille Simmons, to the Junior Olympics in Kansas City, Missouri.
Simmons placed 86th in Junior Women’s Epee, while Lovelace placed 37th in the Junior Women’s Foil.
The Owls improved to 34-9 on Sunday at the Temple Invitational at McGonigle Hall.
Lovelace led the foil squad with a 10-5 record on the day. Hee went 7-3 on the day, while Plunkett went 8-4.
Keft, the epee squad leader who will graduate after this season, said she is glad to know the team will be in good hands.
“It’s still a really young team, so they still have a lot to learn but they’ve seen what we expect of them throughout the season and the type of atmosphere we want to continue with the program,” Keft said.
Tom Ignudo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Ignudo5.