Eleven hours later, Nikki Franke was still on her feet and running around. The Temple Invitational that began at 9 a.m. on Oct. 27 at McGonigle Hall still needed Franke’s guidance to draw to a close at 8 p.m.
The same feet that guided Franke to two Olympic performances and have supported her in 40 years as director of fencing wouldn’t get a break until she obliged a request for an interview. She had one request of her own, to conduct the interview sitting down.
“I’m tired,” Franke said. “It’s a lot of planning and trying to organize everything. This is the earliest we have ever been done. So I’m pretty happy about that.”
The Temple Invitational is the largest event of its kind in the country. With more than 600 fencers from more than 30 schools, the event requires an enormous amount of planning, something Franke said she doesn’t mind doing.
“It’s a great recognition for our school and for the quality of our program,” Franke said. “For teams to want to travel here is great. It is a worthwhile tournament for fencers to make that commitment with time and money to want to come here.”
Not only does the event provide Temple an ability to showcase its skills, it also gives the school an opportunity to invite possible recruits to see Temple compete, Franke said.
“We had a couple recruits today that came out on their own, and that provides great visibility,” Franke said.
While Franke said she was too busy to spend extensive time talking to the younger fencers watching the event, she expressed satisfaction in what the girls looking on saw.
“One girl came up to me and said, ‘I just love the team and I just love how they interact,’” Franke said. “It’s really a family and it is something we really pride ourselves in. It’s nice that someone looking from the outside can immediately see that.”
While the fencing family has a strong bond, its members are always shifting. Temple’s all-time leader in sabre wins, Kamali Thompson, graduated after last season. In addition to the departure of Thompson, a pair of twins competing in both epee and foil, Krystal and Danielle Jones, respectively, left big holes to fill in Temple’s team. While a key competitor in each weapon was lost, Franke’s squad had a busy offseason.
Five freshmen were recruited to Temple for this season, something that comes with a steep learning curve, but also great potential. And with the newcomers on the squad, losing Thompson doesn’t mean the team will necessarily regress, junior foil fencer Epiphany Georges said.
“I think our team is actually stronger,” Georges said. “We had a pretty strong team last year. But we got a lot of good freshman come in, mostly in foil.”
With the new faces coming in, combined with the team’s small roster, the five recruits make up one-third of the 15-member team.
“It’s a whole new dynamic with the recruits coming in,” Franke said. “Every year your team is different. But they have to develop their own personality. They all have been blending in and developing their own personality, so that’s great.”
“It’s an easy transition,” Georges said. “They catch on really quickly. They work really hard and that is all you can really ask for.”
The hard work of the recruits do not go without notice from Franke, who has seen her fair share of recruiting classes.
“We lost some really key seniors this year, and everyone has to step up,” Franke said. “I can’t say how happy I have been with the freshmen. They have worked extremely hard and have done everything we asked them. From the day they walked on this campus they have worked hard and done everything I have asked of them.”
Franke said she wants to see the current recruiting class graduate, giving her at least four more years of coaching on her résumé. When asked at what point she would find a recruiting class that she would see graduate and then end her coaching career, it was probably the one fencing question the legend could not answer.
“I don’t know,” Franke said. “I haven’t gotten to that point yet.”
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.