by Andrew Garda
Montclair High School épée Amira Mutakabbir has been on the Mountie fencing team since freshman year, when the girls’ épée won the NJSIAA state squad title. Last season, the junior was part of a girls team which came in second in the state team tournament.
During the 2019-20 season, Mutakabbir expects the best of both worlds.
“As a team, first place [in states] would be really nice,” she said after Monday’s practice. “Last year it was me, Clara [Mendoza] and Katie [Mathis] who did all of sophomore year, and we were just fencing everyone who was older than us. And it was varsity, so I felt like for us there was a lot of pressure because we were fencing people who were older than us. So, I felt like we just had to win.”
The épée squad followed up its state title with a sixth-place finish last winter, but Mutakabbir said with another year of experience for Mathis — who had never fenced before last year — they can achieve more.
“I feel like this year I want to work hard and get something higher, because I know we’re better than that.”
Mutakabbir, has two big goals for herself: first of which is to be recruited to fence at the collegiate level. Despite being a junior, she wants to get colleges interested now.
Her other personal goal, to medal at the state individual championships, can only help her catch the eye of colleges.
“Last year I got eighth place, so I am hoping for second place or first,” she said. “In my freshman year, I was the only freshman who went to state individuals, and I got seventh place. So I want to do better this year.”
Mutakabbir took a few minutes to chat about that and more for this week’s Athlete Spotlight:
How did you start fencing? One day, maybe in the fourth grade, my parents said, Amira, we’re going to try one Saturday only and we’re going to do this for just one day. We went to the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York City — [Coach] Donovan [Holtz] is a coach there — and basically my mom was like, ‘We’re going to try it out one time,’ and it’s been… like six years that we’ve been doing that.
What’s the Peter Westbrook Foundation? Peter is a six-time Olympian, he’s African-American and Japanese and he won a bronze medal [in the 1984 Olympics]. Fencing in reality is a really expensive sport and it’s not diverse. So that club to me, it basically was a diverse fencing club that opened up me and my sisters to fencing. And it was $50 to start. It’s every Saturday, it’s intensive and all the coaches there are Olympians so that’s something that really helped me further my fencing career.
Why did you choose épée? This is a funny story. So, since I’m tall, tall people usually do épée. My first day at Peter Westbrook, they were like, ‘OK, you’re doing epee,’ because I was tall. And for a year I did épée and I cried the whole time. I was, like, a fourth-grader, fencing épée with grown people who are like six feet and I quit [épée]. So, I did foil for two years and my other coach at PWF, Dwight, came to me and was like, ‘No, you’re doing épée.’ And I’ve been here since sixth grade.
You have two freshmen épée fencers, what do you tell them? I just give them encouragement because there aren’t a lot of épée freshmen, so we want them to stay and want them to grow. Because we’re such a small group, it’s easier for us to nourish them and make sure they get what they need. For the épée, we’re a close family, so that’s why I feel like we work with them harder. Because we’re going to leave soon so we want them to be good. And the epee squad, not to brag, but we are really good and we want to continue to be good.