Matthew Crane knew his task wouldn’t be an easy one.
In the midst of an elimination round of 16 at a state fencing meet last November, Crane, a 6-foot sophomore at Pinecrest Academy, had quite the hole to climb out of in his bout, down 8-1 in a matchup that ends when the victor reaches 15 points.
During a subsequent break, though, something registered in Crane’s head: his focus, once scattered, was now set on keeping his distance and using his reach to get one point at a time.
“The next thing you know, the bout's 14-14,” Pinecrest fencing coach Chad Morris said. “Something clicked where he realized just going out and being haphazard about everything is not the way to do it. Even though he's more athletic than the other guy, the other guy was fencing smarter.”
And that renewed focus ultimately paid off for Crane, who
ended the match as the 15-14 winner.
“I turned around and just yelled because I was so excited,” Crane said. “I honestly did not think I would win that. At some point I had to just turn it off, stop thinking and focus.”
That match signaled a turning point for Crane, who has since become much more consistent for Pinecrest’s small group of fencers. Over the weekend, Crane took third place at the individual fencing state championships at Alpharetta High School, losing by a razor-thin 15-14 margin to the eventual champion in the semifinal.
“Since (the November bout), he's been fencing lights out,” Morris said. “To see Matthew completely take over, I knew right then was the day that we would have a whole new side of Matthew.”
While Crane enjoys the individual aspect of fencing and getting to control all aspects of his game, he still has a team motivation when he goes to state meets. He sees the same contenders there every time: Lambert, Alpharetta, Pope, among others. With Pinecrest being a smaller squad and the only private school represented in the Georgia High School Fencing League, he embraces the chance to beat opponents from bigger schools.
“I don't want to let them win,” Crane said. “They win a lot of these — they win so many. One of the biggest motivations for me this past week was, I want to get our school name on that trophy because we've never had it there before. It's always these big-name schools. They're the ones that are almost always showing up on that trophy. I think it would be really cool if we could get our name up there.”
While fencing ended up being the sport Crane excelled in, it was far from his first. He played soccer when he was younger and tried his hand at basketball and football. In fifth grade, he was introduced to fencing in the classroom, when one of his friends showed the sport as his out-of-school interest.
That inspired Crane, who joined the same club as his friend. Crane ended up staying ingrained in fencing for much longer, though.
“He ended up quitting six months after that,” Crane said. “He doesn't fence anymore. He had no idea he was going to get me into fencing when he came to class that day. It was interesting, because I had never heard of fencing before that. Even during the Olympics and stuff, when they're broadcasting, it's usually at like 2 in the morning. It's never one of the (sports) that you see.”
Crane has been with Pinecrest’s program around four years. He certainly had potential when he came in from his current club, the Olympic Fencers Club, but Morris has seen a big jump just over the past year.
“What I've seen this year, mainly, is his work ethic,” Morris said. “One of the biggest things is just practicing your footwork, which is the way you move backwards and forwards to control distance, and practicing his point control. Instead of just always wanting to just fence about, he wants to practice the small nuances of the motion of the hand, the motion of the feet, how to control the action.”
Crane will be looking to show some of those skills next month, when he competes in the Junior Olympics for the US Fencing Association. With Crane having two more years on the team, the Paladins hope to one day topple bigger schools and finally get their school’s name on the trophy.
“I see a pretty big future for us to move into winning that championship,” Morris said. “For him, he has the chance of moving on to college if he wants to, if he wants to do NCAA, or if he just wants to do collegiate club, that's up to him.”