Temple fencing sabre squad flourishes under assistant coach

Temple’s sabre squad have earned 30 wins twice during each of the past two seasons.

Assistant coach Josh Herring talks to a player during practice on Thursday at the Student Pavillion. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When Josh Herring joined Temple University’s fencing program as a volunteer assistant coach in 2013, he wanted to help lift an underrated sabre squad to new heights.

After he spent two seasons as a volunteer, Herring became an assistant coach in 2015. Working mainly with the sabre squad, he has helped the group improve its record since coming to Temple. The sabre squad reached the 24-win mark in a season only once before Herring joined the program. Since 2013, the Owls have reached that mark four times.  

This season, the sabre squad finished second in the January North American Cup team competition, finishing behind a team with a two-time Division I champion and a bronze medalist at the 2018 World Championships.

After their first two dual meets, the sabres are 7-2, helping the team earn a 6-3 record. The Owls’ sabres went 31-5 on Dec. 2 and 25-20 against Penn State, Columbia University, Yale University, Duke University and Haverford College on Sunday at the Penn State Invitational.

In both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, the sabre squad surpassed 30 wins. Last season, the sabres amassed a 33-5 record a year after they won a program-best 35 bouts.

While Herring agrees his coaching style has had a positive impact, he does not take all of the credit for the sabres’ previous success.

“A lot of the credit falls back on them,” Herring said. “They are willing to listen to my coaching. They follow my lead and work well together. We recruit them because they’re strong and their ability to work together is great.”

Herring coached two sabres to NCAA Championship qualifications in those seasons. Junior Kerry Plunkett finished 19th in 2017 and 22nd last season. Junior Malia Hee also made an NCAA championship appearance last season. She placed 13th, one spot shy of earning All-American honors.

Plunkett and Hee both have 13 wins this season.

Herring’s coaching style is a big part of the sabre squad’s success because he increases the fencers’ knowledge of the sport, Franke said. Herring gives the squad two lessons per week and advises the fencers during practice.

“It doesn’t happen without his coaching and feedback,” Franke said. “We’ve recruited some very good sabre fencers, but they have to continue to grow and learn. That’s the role [Herring] plays. They came very talented, but you have to help them continue to improve.”

When he joined the Owls, Herring did not completely overhaul the coaching styles the sabres were accustomed to but instead motivated the squad members to improve their skills, senior sabre Blessing Olaode said.

Herring’s predecessor as sabre coach, Bradley Baker, worked under coach Nikki Franke from 2004-13. Herring changed the coaching style for the squad with a “high-energy” approach, while Baker was more laid-back and analytical, he said.

“He doesn’t try to overpower the experience and coaching styles we had in the past,” Olaode said. “He just tries to build on the foundations we’ve already had. He’s not really trying to change us. He just tries to enhance what we are already working with.”

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