MISSOULA — Like many indoor activities, COVID-19 dealt a blow to the sport of fencing but over the weekend, Missoula Fencing Association athletes said "en garde" again and lunged back to normal at the first tournament in over a year.
“Throughout this past year, we've had to completely restructure our classes. A large majority of our students' training season was gone. What's so special about this tournament is that they have pursued their training the entire time. They have come in for hours by themselves just to practice with one other student because that's all that we could handle," Head Coach Grayson Katzenbach explained.
Fencing relies on close-quarter interaction, so much of the sport had to be scaled back in 2020 due to the pandemic. "Now their efforts are finally paying off in a sanctioned tournament,” Katzenbach said.
Saturday’s tournament, sanctioned by the U.S. Fencing Association, brought athletes together to compete for their first ranking or earn a higher one -- all the way up to one of the highest ratings in the nation, A2. Players from clubs in Bozeman, Helena, and Spokane arrived in Missoula to compete. Coordination among MFA members and the board of directors, along with respect to state and county health restrictions, made the match possible.
What was apparent - the support of the community while players clash swords for the championship.
“Fencing is a very special sport and the fact that we really have a strong sense of community, especially here at Missoula Fencing Association, so to really embody that in a tournament is just special and something that we're here for,” Katzenbach said.
MFA is home to many successful players; athlete Atticus Bliss has been a member of the organization since age 8. He’s going on to compete at NCAA school Lawrence University in the fall and placed at the last Junior Olympics. He said when COVID-19 shut down the club last year, he kept going.
“Myself and my partner had to get pretty creative with our practicing; like, we met on a patio area in my house for a little while," Bliss explained. "Seeing stuff opening up is great, especially since this is such a high-profile tournament for Montana.”
Bliss said although he enjoys the individual nature of the sport, he’s glad to be part of the club,"it's really rewarding. Especially considering how supportive everyone is here, like, it's a great community."
For this small organization, Saturday’s competition signaled a light at the end of the tunnel. Coach Katzenbach told MTN News classes are now open for beginners and summer kids camps are open for enrollment.
More information about the Missoula Fencing Association can be found here.