By GABRIEL RAMOS
KENNESAW, Ga. — It’s Thursday night in the Owl’s Nest, where Kennesaw State University’s club sports convene for workouts and practice. The clanging of metal fills the air on this evening, as it does with every other Thursday and Tuesday when the KSU Fencing Owls take the mat.
Notable among the five club members who showed up tonight is a young woman whose narwhal socks clash with her otherwise traditional garb. The strange apparel, however, belies the skill with which she handles a sword. Juliana Frigerio is, after all, the club’s president – and its acting coach.
For the night’s practice, bouting’s on the docket, or what would be called ‘sparring’ in other martial arts. Suited up in what’s called a lame (pronounced la-MAY) and mask, Frigerio, 21, squares off with club vice president John Cohran.
Frigerio and Cohran engage with quick footwork and fast swordplay, but in a matter of seconds, the scoring machine beeps and glows red, signifying a point for the president.
The club itself is small, comprised of only 12 members after KSU’s merger with Southern Polytechnic State University. Frigerio is one of only two female members, and the only one with a coaching certification. She describes her path into the world of fencing as a simple one.
“I just thought it looked cool, honestly. My sister’s older than me and a couple of her friends fenced, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” she says. “My parents said I had to stick with it for a year if they were buying the equipment. I ended up sticking with it for a lot longer and I’ve gone through three uniforms!”
She laughs, a relatively common occurrence throughout the evening that gives away her relaxed attitude. Outside of fencing, Frigerio is a junior at KSU, majoring in sports management while juggling three jobs as a student assistant for club sports, coaching, and working at Stone Summit rock climbing gym. She loves to travel, with Maine being her favorite destination.
In the sport, she is not only a coach but an ‘E’ rated fencer as well, which she explains is similar to the belt system present in many other martial arts. Starting from the bottom, with ‘U’ for ‘unrated,’ the rankings through the United States Fencing Association move up through the letters from ‘E’ to ‘A.’ Frigerio earned her rating through placing high in a field of 80-plus competitors in a tournament.
In her seven years of training and competition, she’s engaged in the Junior Olympics, Nationals, collegiate club competitions, North American Cups and Regional Open Circuits. Along the way, she’s earned several medals and daggers, which are common first-place trophies.
Although Frigerio has quite a few accolades under her belt, presidency over the Fencing Owls is something she describes as a necessity. The club is small as is, and other members who would have done the job graduated in recent years, so she stepped up to the plate to fill the void nobody wanted to do. David James, a senior who had been a part of SPSU’s club before the merger, has no complaints.
“I’ve known her a little longer than I’ve been in the club,” he says, referring to a time when they trained over the summer of 2015 before the KSU and SPSU clubs joined together. “She’s good at running the club and practices. It’s been refreshing.”
Juliana Frigerio acts as president and coach to the Kennesaw State Fencing Owls. (Photo by Gabriel Ramos)
The sentiment is held by the rest of the attending club members, who look highly upon her ability to organize logistics while training and competing.
“She likes being in the field more than she does working behind the desk,” Cohran says.
Frigerio’s preferred fencing method, along with most of the club, is known as Epee, where any part of the body is considered a fair target, as long as it’s the tip of the weapon that strikes the opponent. This is in opposition to Foil, where the torso, neck, and groin are targets using the tip of the blade, and Saber, where any part of the body is a target utilizing any part of the blade.
“Personally, I do well against girls, because I fence like a guy,” she says. “I’m aggressive. I like to attack. I like to fleche (a type of running strike) and get in there because I’m short. … I feel like a Chihuahua, so I feel like a big dog in a little person’s body.”
Her size also means she likes to strike the opponent’s arm, where they’re most extended to her. She attributes her style to training mostly with men. James, the only club member to compete in Saber, thinks highly of her methods.
“I win against her at Saber, but she’s beaten me mercilessly in Epee,” he says with a laugh.
Frigerio is doing her best to help her team compete, even though the trophies aren’t quite yet commonplace. She isn’t worried about racking up the accolades, though, focusing primarily on the passion of competing and teaching, and hopes to work for a governing body like the Olympic Committee or USA Fencing.
For now, the Fencing Owls are competing in a local tournament in Athens in the upcoming weekend, one that’s run through a private club. Such tournaments are commonplace for most college fencing clubs, who otherwise host their own events due to the fact that the NCAA doesn’t sanction many colleges outside of the northeast United States.
Regardless of the governing body, it’s up to the club president to ensure things are in order, even without her present. Recently, the Fencing Owls traveled to Clemson to compete, a trip that she was unable to go on due to work but required her efforts in making sure the club was able to travel and compete properly. The mindset of helping bring others up in the sport is what truly drives Frigerio.
“I’m the mom,” she says, laughing. “I’m running all of these boys!”