When a team has been at the pinnacle of its sport for decades and loses its head coach, it’s oftentimes a sign of a closing era. The retirement of Nikki Franke, Temple Fencing’s head coach for more than five decades, left a hole in the program that was extremely difficult to fill.
Franke leads the NCAA with more than 898 all-time wins and won the 1992 NCAA Championship. However, Temple’s current head coach Jennie Salmon knows a thing or two about how Franke ran her program after she fenced for Temple from 1992-1995 and served as team captain for two seasons.
“Since I’ve left Temple as an athlete, I’ve always stayed connected,” Salmon said. “She got me started in coaching with inner city games when I was here in my fifth year.”
Salmon was a fitting coach to lead after Franke, and while her Owls have faced some adversity in the dawn of the season, her team was recently ranked No. 11 in the latest coaches’ poll with quality opponents on deck.
Fencers must be fearless with each match, and this mentality has taken Salmon from the strip to the sidelines, first as a coach at Brandeis University for four years and now at Temple. Many would shy away from becoming Temple’s second-ever fencing head coach, but Salmon accepted her offer in August 2022 with confidence.
After knocking off third-ranked Columbia University and fifth-ranked Northwestern University, along with only a few one-match losses, her team is gaining confidence with each event.
“I hope we can get a win against some schools like Penn State that recently have been beating us,” said senior epee Margherita Calderaro. “But I know Temple Fencing can beat them.”
Salmon has also utilized her experience as a former Temple fencer to build a relationship with her team.
No matter the sword, Salmon has attempted to get to know each of her athletes. The same sentiment Franke carried throughout her coaching career is being echoed throughout the TU Pavilion on Temple’s Main Campus today.
“I can look at them and go ‘I know what this is,’” Salmon said. “I’ve been there.”
Along with the quick feet and shoulder fakes in practice, there is a sense of camaraderie as each bout ends with a high-five or a hug. The fencers watching give their teammates tips and there is no negativity within the sabres, epees or foils; the exact culture Franke hoped would remain strong beyond her tenure.
“[Franke] was calming in a sport like this where it’s tense,” Calderaro said. “I think [Salmon] knowing how the program is is nice. It was nice having someone who knows Temple Fencing.”
As for the performances themselves, Temple sophomore foil Anna Novoseltseva and Calderaro are two examples of fencers setting their foundation with Franke and expanding their skills under Salmon. Calderaro recently led the entire Philadelphia Invitational on Jan. 22 with a 10-2 mark as epee while Novoseltseva had a 3-0 record against No. 3 Columbia University at the Penn State Invitational on Jan. 15.
“The impact [Franke] had on me was making me a stronger fencer mentally and physically,” said sophomore foil Anna Novoseltseva. “Her coaching changed the way I fenced.”
The team has been training since mid-October and will be competing through late March. Despite having a long season, Temple competes in only 14 to 16 tournaments or dual meets. Every match matters in these competitions, and Salmon knows firsthand the importance of preparation.
“You can win or lose by a touch,” Salmon said. “I come from a squad that lost 14-2 to Penn State in the season by eight or nine one-touch losses, then beat them in the championship, turning that around. So it’s so ingrained in me.”
Temple fencing’s prime era is far from closing. While the retirement of Nikki Franke meant the departure of an iconic figure in these fencers’ lives, Salmon established she has what it takes to fill the hole left by Franke’s retirement.