At 3 a.m., only a few hours before the start of the 2014 NCAA Fencing Championships March 21, Fatima Largaespada woke up feeling sick.
The then-junior foil tried to ignore the discomfort, but to no avail. In the minutes leading up to the competition at Ohio State University, she could barely warm up.
“I was feeling like really, really bad, and throughout the tournament, I was like, ‘Just forget about it. Just forget about it,’” Largaespada said. “Every bout I was reminding myself, ‘You can do this. You can do this,’ even though I was feeling really sick. But I couldn’t push through that because the sickness was like killing me.”
In her third consecutive appearance at the NCAA Tournament, Largaespada finished 23rd out of 24 competitors after placing 19th and 20th in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
With her eyes set on improving on last season’s finish, the senior spent the summer training at her grandfather’s fencing club in Mexico and her family’s club in San Antonio, Texas.
Fencing runs in the Puebla, Mexico native’s family, as both her mother and brother help train her.
“I kind of owe my family what I’m doing right now at Temple,” Largaespada said. “So that’s why my family is the most important part of my life. It helps me because I’m with people that love the sport, so I’m kind of surrounded by fencing all the time. And it’s kind of like if I’m not fencing, I don’t know what I’d be doing right now. It’s on my head all the time, so it’s kind of like the reason I wake up every morning.”
Largaespada started the 2015-16 season with Top 3 finishes in the Owls’ first two competitions, winning the Temple Open Oct. 31 and tying for third at the Penn State Garret Open Nov. 7.
She also finished 3-6 at the Elite Invitational, where she faced fencers from the Air Force Academy, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ohio State University and Columbia University Nov. 21.
“I think now she’s actually understanding the game more and is not depending as much on her physical ability, as opposed to a more tactical game,” coach Nikki Franke said. “So, that’s going to go in her favor.”
In last year’s Temple Open and Penn State Garret Open, Largaespada finished 16th and 6th respectively.
She finished the season with a 53-30 record, a seven-win improvement from her 46-28 record in 2013-14.
“There are fencers that may not be the best athletes, but they have great tactics,” Franke said. “And she has the advantage of being a very good athlete as well as learning and gaining in that technical area.”
Senior Olivia Wynn, who practiced alongside Largaespada at foil squad before switching to sabre last season, knows Largaespada’s potential.
“When she’s at her best, she’s unstoppable,” Wynn said. “Like touch after touch … she’s so focused, it almost looks like she’s not even trying. That’s how confident she is in every plan, in every attack that she’s going to do. She looks unstoppable, and she really is. She’s invincible.”
Evan Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Evan_Easterling.