Part of every good coaching staff is a group of assistant coaches that can help push the team to higher levels.
Penn fencing knows all about this, as Slava Danilov, assistant coach for the men’s and women’s fencing teams, provides a unique spark to the program. Danilov, now in his fourth year with the Quakers, is part of an excellent staff that includes head coach Andy Ma and assistant coaches Adi Nott and Randall LeMaster.
Men’s senior epee and captain Zsombor Garzo described Danilov in one phrase.
Much of the competitive spirit that Danilov has brought to Penn is a result of his unique life story.
Originally from the Soviet Union, Danilov was an extremely successful fencer prior to his coaching days, fencing with the Kharkov Regional Ukrainian and Soviet Union National Teams. In 1996, he was a World Cup bronze medalist and a gold medalist in the International World Championships Competition in Brussels.
After this great fencing career, Danilov decided to continue with his passion by transitioning to coaching. This is how he ultimately made his way to the United States.
“I was invited to work at a fencing club in Houston, so I got a visa for that opportunity because I had some good results in fencing,” Danilov said.
Coming into the new role of coaching at a club was relatively seamless, given Danilov’s already extraordinary background. He cites his past coaches as personal inspirations, and he also prepared himself well for coaching by acquiring a particularly helpful degree in college.
“My second degree is as a fencing coach,” Danilov said. “So I was taught to do it.”
What Danilov is referring to is the fact that he holds a BA in Physical Education along with a Master’s in Sport Psychology. Most impressively, the Penn assistant coach is also a Master of Sports International Class in fencing, which was the highest classification in sports in the USSR.
For the Red and Blue, Danilov has brought to the table a particular style of coaching that challenges the fencers to be on point during practice.
“He represents the Russian school when it comes to lessons, so it’s a really good and strict school,” Garzo said. “It’s a lot more technical [than United States fencing], so there’s a lot of technique involved in his lessons.”
Danilov has taken on nearly every role within fencing in his 41-year career. Currently, as an assistant coach, Danilov also brings the experience of running a program as the leader, most recently serving as head coach of Ridge High School and Morris Fencing Club in New Jersey.
Since becoming an assistant for the Quakers in the 2014-15 season, the Penn men’s team has won two Ivy League titles. The women’s team, for its part, has also had success in the past three seasons, earning second place in the Ivy League in 2015 and a third place finish last year.
As is always important in a coaching relationship, head coach Andy Ma and Danilov appear to gel side-by-side.
“They are both [particular] weapon coaches, so they each put in work into their own squad,” Garzo said. “But they also work well together, like when we’re doing warm-ups and stretching together.”
As fencing season approaches its most competitive time, with the Ivy Championships in less than two weeks, all hands will need to be on deck for the Quakers in order to bring home a couple of conference titles. Fortunately for Penn, Coach Danilov knows what it takes to win a championship, and he’s more than willing to help the Red and Blue get to the top.