While Randall LeMaster, the Director of Fencing Operations for Penn, was walking the team's emotional support puppy through Hutchinson Gymnasium, the team and coaching staff were outside playing a jovial game of soccer.
In other words, it was a normal Tuesday afternoon for Penn fencing.
It’s just been that kind of season for the Quakers.
But when you ask LeMaster, things haven’t always come this easy for the Red and Blue.
“Before, it seems that kids were here academically, and fencing was a sideline; now, both are equal,” LeMaster said. “They want to be successful in the classroom, and on the fencing strip. It just takes a little time to create that culture.”
All that time is paying off.
This Saturday, Penn will follow up a successful Ivy League Round Robins at the Temple Invitational. Both squads will compete against Johns Hopkins, Penn State, Princeton, and St. John’s. The men’s squad will take on Stevens in the third round of matches, while the women take on hosting team Temple.
For LeMaster, who was a high school wrestler, the appeal that the fencing team holds isn't all too different from what drew him to take up boxing while serving in the Navy. He enjoyed brief success before an injury to his right eye halted his boxing career. Looking for a safer sport, LeMaster was only introduced to fencing by his nephew, who was taking fencing lessons at the time.
“I was still looking for that intense one-on-one style competition,” LeMaster recounted. “The tactical thinking, and the footwork were quite similar. I learned quite quickly, with the background I had.”
LeMaster learned so quickly, that one day while doing drills to teach himself how to fence right-handed, some coaches asked if he could teach some kids those drills as well. An illustrious career was born.
The Navy veteran eventually opened his own fencing club, Salle de Napoli in Ft. Myers, Fla. During this time, he received national acclaim and eventually attracted the attention of Penn fencing coach Andy Ma at a fencing camp. Ma then invited LeMaster to serve as an interim coach before naming him an assistant epee coach.
In the eight years since, coach Ma has crafted a vision for Penn fencing, relying on LeMaster to help them get there.
“Right now, New York is kind of the Mecca of fencing; we would like Philadelphia to be a satellite,” LeMaster said. “[The Dave Micahnik Center] is probably one of the best facilities in the country; we’d like to get the point where we can start utilizing this for our national teams, and national teams visiting North America.”
LeMaster points out that by getting to attract the best in the world to Penn, the Quakers can learn and observe the techniques of the best up close. But what has pushed Penn from the smaller program it was to the emerging tour de force it is now?
“When I first came here, we had maybe, 17 multi-meets; this year we’re going to have 34,” LeMaster commented. “We’ve made our schedule tougher, we’ve made our schedule longer, we fence the best teams in the United States, a lot of them twice.”
This weekend will be no different for the Quakers. The Red and Blue will take on Princeton for the second time to close out their regular season.
After splitting their Ivy Round Robins matches against Princeton, including an incredible 14-13 victory for the Ivy champion men, the Quakers will be keen to follow up this weekend with a sweep, using a matchup against the strong national program of St. Johns as preparation.
The strength of their competition has always pushed the Red and Blue to improve their own program, but for now, LeMaster is focused on the weekend.
And by no means is his team finished just yet.