National coach hopes more Filipino fencers follow Catantan’s path

Published October 20, 2020, 4:04 PM

by Waylon Galvez

Philippine Fencing team coach Amat Canlas and Sam Catantan during last year’s World Junior Fencing Championship in Poland. (Photo Courtesy of Canlas Fencing Academy)

Three months from now, Sam Catantan will compete for Penn State University’s fencing team, a first for a “homegrown” Filipino athlete to see action in the US NCAA tournament.

For national team coach Amat Canlas, he hopes that more local standouts would be given the same opportunity.

“What she achieved is already a milestone for Philippine fencing since Sam is the first Filipino – a homegrown talent, discovered and developed – to be granted an athletic scholarship by a US college team,” said Canlas when contacted Tuesday by Manila Bulletin.

“We’re hoping that more Filipino fencers would follow Sam, that more would be given a chance. Sam’s the first and she opens the door, that’s for sure because now (scouts) will look at our young athletes.”

Penn State coaches saw the then 17-year-old Catantan when she advanced to the round of 16 of the World Junior Fencing Championships held in Poland last April.

Sam Catantan reacts after one of her wins in last year’s World Junior Fencing Championship in Poland. (Photo Courtesy of Canlas Fencing Academy)

That led to a scholarship grant from the school, which Catantan proved she deserved with a historic feat months later when she became the first Filipino to capture a gold medal in the Asian U23 Championship last October in Bangkok, Thailand.

Although she skipped the first semester last August because of the coronavirus outbreak, Catantan is set to leave for the US January of 2021 as a student-athlete of Penn State.

The school is a powerhouse in college fencing, as it owns a US NCAA record of 13 championships. However, the last time the team won a title was during the 2014-15 Season.

Last year, the Nittany Lions were denied of ending a four-year title drought by finishing second to Columbia Barnard. This year’s fencing tournament has been scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aside from the talent of Catantan, Canlas said Penn State coaches were impressed with her training regimen together with the rest of the Philippine Team during their conversation at the Worlds.

According to Canlas, many were surprised with the hectic six days a week training of students-athletes in the Philippines since most were able to balance their respective schedules of studies in the morning and practice sessions in the evening.

“Sila kasi sa US four days a week daw ang ensayo, kaya nagugulat sila sa sipag, dedication ng mga atleta natin. Lalo yung mga nag-aaral tapos nagte-training pa,” said Canlas.

However, what these students-athletes in the US – like the fencers of Penn State – have are the number of tournaments every weekend, and for Canlas, that is what Catantan will get.

The number of events plus the quality of opponents will benefit Catantan in improving her skills.

In return, this would help the national team as Catantan is expected to compete for flag and country in the various international events like next year’s Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam, the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China in 2022, and the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments (OQT).

“Malaki ang magiging improvement ni Sam once the makapag-start na siya ng training sa Penn State, and eventually makapag-compete na siya sa US NCAA kasi mabibigat ang mga makakalaban niya,” said Canlas.

“Halos lahat din naman ng magagaling sa buong mundo nasa mga schools sa America, kaya malaking tuong yan sa improvement ni Sam. Iba yung mabibigay na exposure sa kanya playing in the US NCAA.”

A young Sam Catantan in action during her early stages as an aspiring fencer with coach Christian Canlas. (Photo Courtesy of JJ Merri Santos/Canlas Fencing Academy)

The development of Catantan, who took fencing when she was eight years old, led Canlas – with the help of coaches at Canlas Fencing Academy including his brother Christian – to focus on young aspiring fencers.

Despite the pandemic, online lessons were made available for the young fencers to continue learning.