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Tara Bowers (right) is returning to Guilford High School as head coach of the Grizzlies’ fencing program this winter. Here, Coach Bowers answers some questions from sophomore Vanessa Toyn (left). (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Grizzlies’ fencing Head Coach Tara Bowers watches senior captain Owen Angkatavanich get ready for sabre practice at Guilford High School. Guilford is facing Morgan in its first meet of the season this week. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captains Owen Angkatavanich and Camille Gipson get in some practice reps on the sabre strip during a recent Grizzlies’ fencing session. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Tara Bowers hasn’t coached in more than a decade, but her passion for fencing never dulled after she spent some time away from the sport. Now, as the 2021 winter season gets underway, Bowers is set to begin the first year of her second stint as head coach of the Guilford fencing program.
When her two children, Molly, 11, and Lucy, 9, started taking fencing lessons this past summer, Bowers knew she that wanted to get back into coaching. That wish came true when Bowers was rehired as the fencing coach at Guilford High School, where she last coached in 2008.
“I am so excited to be involved again in fencing. After watching my kids for a few weeks, I could not stay seated. I just had to get up and participate with them,” said Bowers. “I did not realize how much I had missed the sport. It brings me such joy to be involved again in fencing for myself and to be coaching this amazing team.”
Guilford’s girls’ and boys’ fencing teams both enjoyed successful seasons last winter, with the girls’ squad winning a state title for the sixth year in a row. The boys’ team also turned in a solid performance at the State Championship, narrowly finishing in second place behind Hand.
This year, Guilford will be led by six captains on the fencing strip. The Grizzlies’ captains are seniors Peter Keanna, Scott Calder, Nwall Toma, Sophia Ruser, and Camille Gipson, along with junior Owen Angkatavanich.
Keanna is a member of the boys’ foil team, while Angkatavanich and Calder compete for the boys’ sabre team. Toma will lead the way for the girls’ épée team, Ruser is the girls’ foil captain, and Gipson is the captain of the girls’ sabre squad.
Coach Bowers said that she’s looking forward to seeing her fencers compete this season, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has created so many twists and turns in the sporting world throughout the past year.
“I think the past year has taught us—expect the unexpected. My hope for this season is to give these student-athletes, especially the seniors, a little of normalcy,” Bowers said. “They have already lost so much because of COVID. I’m hoping do whatever we can to have a competitive and enjoyable season.”
Right now, Guilford has 11 meets scheduled against local teams for the season. Fencing teams typically travel around the state and also out of state to participate in tournaments. However, there are no plans for that to happen this year as a result of the pandemic.
“We have 11 meets planned with local teams. I am hoping everyone will stay healthy, and we can have all of these meets,” said Bowers. “Usually, we travel throughout the entire state competing and have multiple big tournaments. None of that will happen this year. However, I know all the student-athletes will fence their hardest at competitions we have planned and enjoy the time we have to compete.”
Guilford’s practices are also going to have a different look this winter. Instead of the entire team practicing together daily, the Grizzlies are broken up into four cohorts of 10 to 15 fencers apiece. Each cohort practices for 45 minutes a day, and no group can be mixed together at any point in practice.
“We are doing everything we can to keep the student-athletes safe and, at the same time, give them an enjoyable fencing season,” Coach Bowers said. “There are a lot of changes this year due to COVID. For meets, we will only travel with the starting fencers and one alternate. Everyone will miss the full team experience of traveling, competing, and cheering each other on. And of course, we will be mandating that students always wear face masks, sanitize their hands often, keep socially distanced, and not share any equipment. As hard as this all is, it is worth it if we can fence this winter.”
One of Bowers’s concerns is that Guilford’s younger fencers will not be able to attend meets to watch the varsity teams compete this season. Bowers believes that one of the best ways for any fencer to improve is by seeing their colleagues in action.
“The biggest impact is not going to be the lack of fans, but that younger fencers cannot come to the meets. This is one of the biggest losses for the team,” said Bowers. “The beginner and JV fencers learn so much by watching the varsity compete. Most of the freshmen have never fenced before, so the meets are their first time seeing the sport in action. We are going to miss the cheering from our own teammates even more than we will miss the cheering of the fans. We hope to video and stream the meets so that the rest of the team, the parents, and other fans can watch.”
Guilford’s first meet of the season is scheduled to take place at Morgan on Thursday, Feb. 11. Coach Bowers has great expectations for the Grizzlies and appreciates everything that her captains and Assistant Coach Joran Nelson have done to get them ready for the campaign.
“I am so grateful to the captains and my assistant coach, Joran Nelson,” Bowers said. “They have done such a great job pulling the team together. I could not have done this without all their guidance and knowledge.”