Wilton teen fencer secures top-ten ranking in U.S.

WILTON — While in fifth grade, Trisha Nath waltzed into a small fencing studio in her hometown without much prior knowledge of the sport.

Today, the high school freshman is ranked ninth in the country for her age group in sabre fencing and has earned an A rating in 2022 — the highest possible rating and only the sixth in the United States at her age to accomplish that feat this year.

While Nath said she initially picked up the sport in 2018 because her father, Keshar, showed a desire for her to begin her training, she quickly built an intrigue of her own after her first few lessons.

“I really liked it,” Nath said. “I liked it because of how unique it was. I didn’t know anybody else that was doing fencing.”

She also took to the sport quickly and was given reinforcement to continue her training by her coaches at Olympian Fencing Studion in Wilton.

Nath earned her A-rating after placing in the top eight at the North American Cup in Charlotte, N.C. in April. Nath joined a pool of 102 other competitors at the national tournament and made it to the Round of 16, where she needed a pivotal win to jump from her then C-rating to an A-rating with a top-8 finish.

Fencers must “renew” their A rating each year with a top finish at select competitions.

The match — and the A-rating — didn’t come without a fair amount of drama, though.

Nath, now splitting her training between her hometown Wilton club and East Coast staple Bergen Fencing Club in Waldwick, N.J., was matched up with an already A-rated fencer from another notable club in California.

“It was one of the craziest bouts that I have had,” Nath said recalling the back-and-forth affair. “It was very stressful, a lot of people were watching.”

She noted that excitement had been brewing before the match, knowing an elusive 2022 A-rating was up for grabs for the fencer first to 15 points in the bout. “But I wasn’t thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to win,’ or ‘Oh, I’m going to lose.’ I was just ready to fence,” Nath said.

All the while, Nath was recovering from a pesky back injury that had been bothering her up until competition began.

The bout started off anything but ideal for the Wilton resident, who immediately found herself in a 6-0 deficit. Her focus did not waver and she rallied back to match her opponent at eight points a piece.

“I couldn’t rush,” Nath said of her thought process before making the bout an 11-11 tie.

In addition to the nailbiting nature of the bout’s see-saw scoring, Nath had also accumulated a red card from the official. In sabre fencing, a red card is given to a fencer who accumulates any combination of two illegal offenses. A third offense would result in the forfeit of the athlete from the competition, so Nath said she was sure to not only listen to her coaches’ advice, but execute in a measured and calm manner.

Nath’s opponent pulled out to a 14-11 lead, needing just one more point to re-secure her A-rating and move on to the Round of 8. “You can see she’s becoming very stressed towards the end of the bout,” Nath said. “I was staying very calm, and I got the next three points and it become 14-all.”

Then, with one swift motion of her blade and an ever-so slightly mistimed parry attempt from her opponent, the light that signals a point for Nath lit up and the crowd began to roar. Nath said she wasn’t even sure what had happened at first.

“I could hear everyone screaming, but I just didn’t know,” she said as it took her a minute to realize the gravity of the moment. She noted that she felt proud for having leapfrogging the B-rating and going from a C-rating to an A-rating, a feat that isn’t easily attainable.

While she was unsuccessful in her Round of 8 match, her win culminated a six-year journey from an unrated novice to a top fencer in the country for her age group.

Nath earned an E-rating, the lowest of the classifications, in January 2020. After upping her competition frequency from twice a month to every weekend, she secured a D-rating in September 2021. In March of 2022, she earned a C-rating just one month before the NAC in Charlotte.

While Nath said fencing is a unique sport in that it is mostly an individual challenge without the benefit of a team to lean on when tough times present themselves, she said she was happy to have a whole roster of teammates behind her and rooting her on in her competitions. She attributes the move to Bergen Fencing Club with bolstering that group of friends. She found comfort and motivation from her team, something she said felt different than her early fencing career when it was mostly her parents cheering for her from the stands.

Ultimately, fencing has been a fun way for Nath to express herself since starting her training in fifth grade. While the high school does not have a fencing team, she hopes to spread her affinity for the sport to her friends and classmates.

Then, she said it would “be a lot of fun fencing at the college level,” and is eyeing what school and program would be the best fit for her.