- Coming off an eighth-place finish among the Women's Teams at the NCAA Championships and returning three fencers that advanced to those championships, Temple Fencing is poised for another strong season. The Owls, led by legendary head coach Nikki Franke
, finished 28-8 overall in 2013-14 and were ranked as high as seventh in the nation.
Franke comes into the season just one win away from reaching the 700-win plateau in her impressive career. Temple is consistently one of the top women's teams in the country, but Franke says keeping the team motivated is not a problem.
"I think the girls come in motivated," she said. "They're always looking to improve. They set the bar pretty high and they want to exceed it, so that's the driving force behind the atmosphere and the work ethic of the team. The girls realize the level that this team has been at over time. They know it's not only attainable, but expected. It's not enough to say we did well last year. We want to consistently do well, so they know they have to work to reach that level."
The NCAA allows a maximum of six fencers per team to compete at the NCAA Championships, and that is always Temple's goal. "Having four (last year) was one of the highest numbers we've had," said Franke, "but our region is very strong. It's hard for our girls to get to the NCAA Championships with only six or seven from our region selected in each weapon. It's a very narrow path."Tiki Kastor
, returning for her senior season this year, is the Owls' top returner after earning All-America Second Team honors by placing seventh in sabre at last year's NCAA Championships. The other returning NCAA participants are junior foilist Fatima Largaespada
and sophomore epeeist Rachael Clark
Every fencer on Temple's team qualified for the NCAA Regionals last year, which is another goal for the Owls each season.
Leadership on this year's team will come from elected team captain and senior Lauren Rangel-Friedman
of the sabre squad. Rangel-Friedman has been one of the less vocal members of the team in her first few years, but Franke and assistant coach Anastasia Ferdman
are pleased to see her stepping up into a leadership role this season.
"Lauren is doing a really good job so far," said Ferdman. "She is normally a very quiet person, so this year she has made a lot of changes to her leadership style. In the past she has led by example, and this year she is adjusting to being more vocal and she's doing a really good job of taking on that role. She is a great example for the girls and a hard worker."
Coach Franke echoed those sentiments, and talked about how important the role of captain is to Rangel-Friedman.
"It has been very nice to see how Lauren has matured over the years," she said. "When she first came here she hardly spoke, and now she's being asked not only to speak, but to really lead. I think it's an honor that the team selected her, and I think she appreciates that honor and takes it quite seriously."
Rangel-Friedman will also serve as squad leader for sabre, a group that went 28-8 last year under the leadership of volunteer assistant coach Josh Herring
Kastor is this year's only other senior along with Rangel-Friedman, and Franke is excited to see her exceed even her impressive accomplishments from last season.
"This is going to be a year for Tiki to finish strong," said Franke. "She was second team All-America last year, and she definitely has the capabilities and the talent to do even better. It's just a matter of putting in the work and really staying focused. I know she wants to end her collegiate career on a high note and that's what we'll be working toward helping her do."
Junior Jessica Hall
is the squad leader for epee and Largaespada is the foil squad leader.
"The epee squad members are all equally as ambitious and hard-working," said Ferdman, "and I think they're working really well with Jess. She sets the tone and they follow her. They're all young, but they listen to her and we have a very good dynamic on the squad and on the team in general this year."
Last year's epee squad finished with a record of 25-11, and had two NCAA participants in Clark and the now-graduated Chantal Montrose
"Fatima is very committed to the team and to her fencing," said Franke. "Again, being a hard worker sets the tone for the entire squad. We have two new members on the foil squad, so this is all brand new to them. I think Fatima has done a good job integrating them into the squad and letting them know what's expected and helping them feel comfortable."
Temple welcomes four newcomers this season, including three freshmen and a sophomore junior international student.
"All of the newcomers are pretty very experienced," said Franke. "They've all been fencing for quite a while. Gloria Aguilar
comes to us with international experience which is really nice. Safa Ibrahim
is one of the top juniors in the country and Becca Stanford
is one of the top foilists in the country. Mariah Slagle
has been fencing for several years also and been a finalist at several US Fencing National Tournaments. They have all had success in different ways. I think they bring a lot to the team and they have a very positive attitude."
Beyond the team's postseason goals, the coaches primarily focus on doing the right things each day to get better.
"My goal for each girl is to not stand still but to always take steps forward," said Ferdman. "It's not a matter of results. The results are just a result product of the hard work we're doing throughout the season, so I don't really measure it by the numbers. I want to see the way they execute what we teach them. If they are following directions and doing the best they can under my coaching, then to me it's a success. It's really amazing to compare how some fencers started off with where they are now, by following our methods here. It's really rewarding."
Temple's program is aided this season by a new locker room, new apparel and a new academic center. Franke has been particularly impressed by improvements in the strength & conditioning department and the extra staff in that area.
"I think the strength and conditioning room has had a tremendous impact," she said. "With the work the girls are doing in there, they see the difference, and we see the difference in them. They feel stronger which adds to their confidence, and with the cardiovascular conditioning, it makes them better athletes. If you're a better athlete, you'll be a better fencer."
Franke went on to mention that the upgrades in other areas just help build a sense of commitment that goes both ways.
"Our girls are very pleased with the upgrades to the locker room and other areas," she said. "They're very proud to walk around campus with their Temple Athletics gear on. You They see the commitment the University is making to youthem, and you they want to return that same commitment."
Franke has the Owls set for another challenging season, one in which Temple will face all of the other teams that finished in the top 10 at last year's NCAA Championships.
As is tradition, Temple will start its season by hosting the Temple Open, which is the largest individual collegiate tournament in the nation. The meet will feature women's competition on Saturday, Nov. 1, and men's fencing on Sunday, Nov. 2.
"The Temple Open is great," said Franke. "It's the beginning of the season and it's something our team looks forward to. It's a mixture of excitement and anxiety."
Franke and her staff have made the commitment each year to host the tournament. While she admits it is a lot of hard work, she says it pays off in the end.
"It's a lot to put together, but teams keep coming back and more teams keep wanting to come," she said. "The reputation of the tournament really puts Temple's name out there in the fencing world, which is a really positive thing for the University."