Tinney Mak has had a whirlwind six months. It began with her moving from Kansas to go to school at High School South. She changed fencing clubs and in the midst of adapting to her new surroundings, she earned a spot on the Canadian National Cadet Team and joined the South girls fencing squad.
“I think it’s starting to settle down a bit more,” Mak said.
Mak was nervous the first day of school, but she has made friends and been a welcome addition for the Pirates.
She won the individual foil title at the District 2 fencing championships on Jan. 27, to become one of two South girls to advance to the state Tournament of Champions. Pearl Rowland placed fourth in the individual saber to earn the fourth and final qualifying spot in her weapon.
It’s been a good start for Mak, who is a freshman, and she has been happy to have new friends to share her love of fencing—in Kansas, there were no high school fencing programs.
“Being part of the team, it’s a nice experience,” Mak said. “When I normally fence in competitions I don’t have that many people cheering me on. It’s a good bonding experience. And I got to know a lot of older kids, juniors and seniors, that I wouldn’t have gotten to meet if I wasn’t on the fencing team.”
Mak wasn’t sure what to expect at districts. She hadn’t faced all the fencers in the district before and had to adjust to the logistics of it.
“I was pretty nervous because for districts we had to wake up at like 5 o’clock,” Mak said. “I don’t normally fence well in the mornings. And I didn’t know how good the other fencers would be.”
She battled through any uncertainty to earn the gold in foil.
Mak helped South finish fourth overall as a team to earn a spot in the state tournament. They lost to defending state champion and top seed Bergen Tech, 16-11, in the state tournament opener. Mak, Kathleen Louie and LaYou Yu also qualified for the state squad championships that were to be held Feb. 25.
South had one boys squad reach the squad championships. The boys epee of Vinny Ganesan, Evan Kertes, Gordon Hesterberg, Mukundhan Tuppil, Chihao Tong and Kevin Ji were to compete Feb. 24 in the boys squad championships.
“We still made it to the Sweet 16 for both teams this year,” said first-year Pirates head coach Daniel Bailey-Yavonditte. “The teams we went out against were some of the top teams in the state. The guys lost to Ridge and our women’s team gave last year’s champ, Bergen Tech, a run for their money.”
Mak has done well outside of school while representing the Premier Fencing Club. Born in Canada, Mak competed earlier this year in Poland and she did well enough in the Canada Cup to take a spot on their Cadet National Team.
ak has been fencing since she was 8 years old, when her mother encouraged her to try the sport. Mak, who always enjoyed physical education classes, took to the sport right away. Years of training have developed her into a smarter and stronger fencer.
“In recent years, I’ve started using my brain more,” Mak said. “When I was younger, I’d rush more and not think when I was losing. Now I think I’ve gotten better when I’m losing by a few points, I bend my blade and take my time and think of strategies.”
Mak had to rely on her brain when she fell behind at districts. Twice an opponent was one touch away from beating her before Mak rallied to win.
“Her willingness to be patient and wait it out and wait it out to get it right is what wins her some of those close ones,” Bailey-Yavonditte said. “Being fast is not everything. Being fast and patient allows you take advantage of opportunities presented by your opponent.”
Mak hopes to continue to develop as a fencer amid a schedule that doesn’t seem any less hectic. She would be among the favorites at the state championships, but she may not be able to go due to a conflict with the Canadian national team.
“For states, I’m not sure I’m going to go,” Mak said. “I also have Pan-Ams. I think those dates are close. I’m not sure I’ll be able to go yet.”