Stanford is quietly building a West Coast fencing dynasty

Underneath one of the student recreation centers on Stanford's campus, you’ll find the universities fencing facilities. Much like the athletes who practice here, the facility is humble and hidden. When you walk inside, you're greeted by the sound of grunts, blades, and the oddly familiar smell of an old, sweaty gym.

The team has been around for well over half a century, in that time they have quietly built a west coast dynasty.

"Were a power out in the west there's no question," said Stanford fencing head coach Lisa Posthumus.

Pothumus has been coaching at Stanford for 25 years. She runs a tight ship at Stanford. Academically, her teams average GPA is routinely above 4.0. Athletically, they’re a dominant force, she has led Stanford to 21 Western Conference titles, 17 top-10 NCAA finishes, and seven NCAA individual championships. 

Even though, she does not know exactly how many wins she's recorded in the last 25 years. 

"For years those things were recorded, we are working on recording those," said Posthumus.  "If I'm a winning coach, how many wins I have under my belt, I'm not sure, but by the time I retire it's going to be way up there."

Wins aside, Posthumus is a walking history book on all-things Stanford fencing. Her mother, Sherry Posthumus, worked at Stanford for 25 years. Sherry first served as an assistant fencing coach before she became the assistant athletic director. 

"I absolutely bleed cardinal but its more than that," said Posthumus. "I actually got married on campus back in the old fencing gym, "My kids learned how to walk and ride bikes in the quad Stanford has been a part of my life since I can remember."

Posthumus has a rare title, not just at Stanford but across the NCAA. She's the head coach of the men and women. 

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"We can count on one hand here at Stanford how many women are in charge of men's teams, I think its just me," said Posthumus. 

She said coaching men can, at times, be different than women, but said at the core she said athletes are athletes. 

"It doesn't matter what gender they are you have to find out how to motivate them," said Posthumus. 

Posthumus coached Alex Massialas, a male fencer, to two NCAA championships in men's foil. He went on to earn a silver medal in foil at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and a bronze in team foil. He also has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

She said fencing is often misunderstood.

"People think my practices are hanging from chandeliers or something, it's just not the case," said Posthumus. "It's an Olympic sport, it's very, very tough."

In fencing, there are no swords, the proper name is a blade. There are also many types of blades, and different styles of fencing, you can tell the difference by the blade used or the color of the fencer's jacket.

"It's an athletic sport, it requires athleticism it requires you to grow and push yourself, but there's this mental component there's people who are intellectual like thinking about the strategy," said Liana Keesing, a senior on Stanford's fencing team. 

Keesing and Posthumus have both seen fencing blossom in popularity recently, making it harder and harder to earn a spot on the Stanford roster. Keesing said the sport while still expensive, is breaking free from its "country club" stereotype. Stanford's team is one of the most diverse groups on campus. 

"When I was growing up there were like eight girls at a meet, now there's 250,they're having to cap events,' said Liana Keesing, a senior on Stanford's fencing team. 

Keesing said she started fencing as a kid because of the movie Princess Bride. Star Wars and The Parent Trap, kick-started the careers of other Stanford fencers. 

Both women said the fencing boom is a good thing for the sport at Stanford and beyond. 

"We think a lot as a team about how can we make this more accessible," said Keesing. "We are going to start volunteering in the community, teaching lessons, we want people to know that fencing is for everyone."