Youth and inexperience have hindered the performances of several Temple sports teams this year.
While most teams have suffered and have had difficulty maintaining a .500 record, the women’s fencing team has thrived, producing a 13-1 dual meet record and several National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association trophies.
The success of the team can be attributed to the phenomenal coaching of Zoila Polacio and Nikki Franke, and to the only seniors on the team, captain Sakinah Shaahid and Nicole Macomber.
“They’re really two very different stories,” coach Franke explained.
“Sakinah came to us having had a lot of experience under her belt. Nicole was a walk-on…there aren’t many of those left anymore.”
These two fencers, on opposite ends of the fencing spectrum as far as skill and experience are concerned, have led the young squad to win after win en route to the NCAA National Championship.
Shaahid, a former epee and foil fencer and Pennsylvania State Champion three years in a row (96-99), has been named first team All-America for the past two years.
She won the sabre crown at the NIWFA Championships last year and has placed fourth in the NCAA Championships for the past two years.
Franke attributes much of Shaahid’s success to her unique personality and commanding poise on the strip.
“Sakinah has a fantastic strip presence,'” Franke said.
“She really gives the feeling of being in control.”
Before her arrival at Temple, Shaahid traveled across America and all over the world to compete.
Traveling to countries such as Germany and Italy added to the allure of fencing, and encouraged Shaahid to tryout for the 2000 Summer Olympics.
However, the U.S. fencing team only took the four top-ranked athletes on the senior point list, and Shaahid was ranked a heartbreaking fifth.
After the upsetting news, she began training with the sabre to compete within collegiate events, and continued to train with epee for national events.
But her burning desire for glory had been dulled after missing the Olympic spot.
“When I started training for sabre, my training for epee wasn’t as intense as it used to be,” Shaahid said.
“When I tried to go to a competition to fence epee, I wasn’t doing as well as I used to. It got me discouraged.”
Determined to continue her discipline, Shaahid strove to succeed with her new weapon, and in her sophomore year finished with a team-high of 51 wins.
She has continued her success and is now seeking the NCAA National Sabre Champion title, one of few awards she does not already own.
A third consecutive first team All-America honor is likely.
Teammates look to Shaahid for advice during matches and enjoy her fun personality on and off the strip.
While Shaahid was filling her fencing history with awards and trophies, Macomber was on the softball field back in her hometown of Manahawkin, NJ.
She was intrigued at the thought of trying a new sport when she first heard about the freshman team.
“They were short fencers my freshman year,” Macomber said.
“I called the coaches to meet with them and they had me come the first day [of practice] and I’ve been here ever since.”
“There were a couple of walk-ons that came,” Franke said.
“She’s the only one that lasted.”
“Risk-taker,” said Shaahid when asked what she originally thought about Macomber as a walk-on.
“Because she was coming on to a team of experienced [fencers] and she was trying to get where we were. She caught on very well. And I enjoy working with her.”
Over the years, Macomber’s personal goal for herself has been to improve so she could feel like a part of the team.
And improved she has, going from a 17th finish at the NIWFA Christmas Invitational as a freshman to sixth as a senior.
A future in fencing is unlikely for either woman.
Shaahid hopes to become a women’s counselor while Macomber has dreams of becoming involved in the FBI.
Steve Papurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.