Fencing: Nemecek succeeds as foilist, coach

Matt Forman

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While her teammates worked on technique at practice Wednesday, junior foilist Sam Nemecek sat in street clothes at the center of Patten Gym critiquing their approach.

“I think because you’re not real loose, you’re standing up tall and are exposed a little bit,” Nemecek said to freshman Meredith Basksies. “Don’t be afraid to get down.”

Nemecek has a nagging knee injury and said she likes to rest in the middle of the week to prepare for the weekend’s competition. The Wildcats compete this weekend in the NU Duals at the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion. But just because Nemecek is injured doesn’t mean she won’t help out at practice.

“I love teaching and I’m very passionate about it,” she said. “I guess it runs in the family.”

Although she has been fencing competitively since she was 11 years old, Nemecek switched coaches when she was 13. Since then, she has trained under her father’s direction.

Nemecek attributes much of her fencing success to her father, Michael. With her father’s coaching in high school, she qualified for the Junior World Championships four times and participated three times.

Since then, Nemecek has earned second-team All-American honors twice. She went 103-18 as a freshman and finished 121-19 last year. She was the only Cat to top the 100-win plateau last season.

Having fenced competitively for 10 years makes Nemecek’s experience unmatched.

“(Nemecek) is so much more than a great fencer and a winner,” freshman foilist Lisa Sachs said. “She really has a keen understanding for the sport with her experience and brings it to a whole new level for you. For someone like me, that’s great. I really benefit from that.”

Lucky for Sachs, Nemecek opted to remain at NU this season instead of redshirting to prepare for the Olympics. Instead, the junior will graduate on time and then prepare for the 2012 Summer Games. Nemecek said she would work for a year after graduating to earn some money and then spend the following two years preparing for the London Olympics.

Even if it’s not the Olympics, Nemecek said she hopes to have a successful season and has set high individual goals. Nemecek wants to finish in the top four at the NCAA Championships in foil and earn first team All-American honors. She finished seventh at the NCAA Championships last year.

“I definitely have a goal this season, and I wanted to get off to a good start,” Nemecek said.

Nemecek is undefeated in dual meets this season and didn’t lose her first bout until last weekend. She went 15-1 against some of the nation’s top teams, including No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Columbia and No. 3 Ohio State.

Despite her individual success, Nemecek has had to get used to competing on a team.

“More than anything, it was hard for me to transition from the individual aspect of fencing to fencing on a team,” she said. “It took me a while to get used to, but now it’s great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Baskies, also a foilist, gets to see all of Nemecek’s different sides: the coach, teammate and friend.

“Beyond being a great teammate, Sam is also a great friend,” Baskies said. “She’s always helping everyone out, she’s someone to talk to and she’s one of the top fencers in the country. I don’t think you could have a better combination.”

Reach Matt Forman at matthewforman2007@u.northwestern.edu.