Despite missing their all-time wins leader Safa Ibrahim, Temple began its season on Saturday with strong individual performances.
Temple University’s fencing team only graduated one player last season, but that player was epee Ibrahim, who earned 221 wins during her four-year career.
The Owls started the season by hosting the Temple Open on Saturday at the Liacouras Center. All five members of the sabre squad placed in the top 12 at the event.
The team is missing Ibrahim, but are working hard in her absence, coach Nikki Franke said. The team is filling her void with a strong supporting cast of upperclassmen, including five seniors, five juniors and four sophomores.
Ibrahim left her mark on Temple’s program: she went 44-30 and won the individual epee title at the National Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association Championships last year.
“She was a leader and a very hard worker,” Franke said. “She’s left that legacy and the girls have been really following that legacy this year.”
Franke said having more seniors on the team will help the team have more success this season.
“The upperclassmen set the tone,” Franke said. “Our squad leaders are doing a great job. Having that experience and maturity of those upperclassmen really helps a great deal.”
The five seniors are epees Fiona Fong and Ally Micek, foil Auset Muhammad and sabres Blessing Olaode and Jessica Rockford.
Redshirt-junior Quinn Duwelius did not play for the second half of the season, after tearing her ACL in January.
Rockford said because many freshmen and sophomores competed last season, the team’s expectations increased for this season. Last season, sophomore sabre Eva Hinds went 54-20 in dual meets and placed second at the Temple Open. She finished ninth in the same event on Saturday. Sophomore epee Marielle Luke finished 23rd in the epee event, while sophomore foil Megan Ross took 18th place in foil.
“Now that they’ve had a year under their belt, they understand what’s expected them,” Rockford said. “They understand how hard they need to work in order to be the top-10 team that we are. The freshmen are learning very quickly, just like I did my freshman year.”
For this season, the Owls added three new fencers — sophomore epee Zahrah Dinkins and freshmen foils Cassie Navalta and Aryanna Abtin. Dinkins is Ibrahim’s cousin and a transfer from McKendree University, a Division II school in Illinois.
Temple will look to build on its successful 2017-18 season. The Owls earned 26 wins after totaling a program-high 34 in the 2016-17 season.
Junior foil Kennedy Lovelace earned All-American honors at the NCAA championships last season after finishing seventh out of 24 foil competitors. Junior sabres Malia Hee and Kerry Plunkett also represented Temple at the national meet, while Olaode served as an alternate.
Olaode wants the team to have another year full of accolades before she graduates.
“I definitely want to go out with a bang,” Olaode said. “I’m trying to work really hard, harder than I’ve ever worked before and set goals for myself. This could be my best season yet.”