CHATHAM, NJ - Kat Xikes is like any motivated student. She wants to get an "A".
The Chatham High sophomore isn't just thinking about her classes as an AP Biology student. Her goal is to be counted among the top graded fencers in the country for her age group by USA Fencing.
"Right now I'm a C and I want to be an A-rated fencer, that's my goal," Xikes said. "I want to earn a national medal. To do that, you have to finish in the top eight in a national tournament. It's all about getting the experience."
Xikes boosted her rating among sabre fencers in the county last Saturday when she went 15-0 in bouts, winning the Morris County Girls Sabre individual championship.
Kat Xikes is the Chatham Wealth Management Athlete of the Week.
"Kat Xikes continues to excel in her fencing for reasons that are obvious to those who have spent even a few minutes with her," Jerry Duffey, Chatham fencing coach, said. "Kat works hard, and she does it with a smile from start to finish. And she loves her team. This is why she was last year's district one champion and this year's county champion for girls' sabre."
Xikes participated in a number of sports as she approached high school but none of them kept her interest until she started fencing at the club level as a seventh-grader. Her first competitive fencing came with the CHS fencing team.
"I've been fencing for three years, but I really didn't start to do it seriously until high school," she said. "I enjoy sabre because it's fast-paced. You have to move quickly and think fast. I also enjoy the tactics of it. There is a psychological factor where you have to take risks. You're trying to take advantage of the weakness of your opponent. You're always observing the style of other fencers."
Xikes won the District 1 championship as a freshman to qualify for states last year, but she didn't do as well as she'd like at the state tournament. That motivated her to put more time into practice and training. Now she has practices twice a week on Wednesday and Friday and takes private lessons on Monday and Thursday.
"I like all of it," Xikes said. "When you're fencing, you feel like you have energy. Even when you're tired, you get this adrenaline rush on every attack. I don't know how to explain it. There is a lot of thinking, which I really enjoy because a lot of sports don't require that much. It's really fun to figure out habits and patterns and use that against your opponent."
Xikes recalls that when she was younger she kept switching back and forth between dancing and gymnastics because she was bored.
"I've always been switching between sports," she said. "I probably have done five sports before fencing. I didn't really have the patience to play other sports. I like to keep moving. I really found one that is solid and that I enjoy doing."
Xikes, who is eyeing a possible future career in genomics, may have received some of her athletic genes from her mother, Pat, who is a black belt in Taekwondo. But she definitely got the bug to fence from her father, Greg.
"When I was younger, I used to watch Star Trek with my dad," she said. "He'd say, you need to be a fencer. We'd always see Captain Picard fencing with other people. As a kid, I was always saying 'I'm going to be a fencer' but I never had the motivation," the 15-year-old said. "When I got older, I never thought I was going to do it. There was no downside to joining the Chatham High team. Everyone is so nice and I'm friends with everybody on the team."
Along the way, Xikes has been able to pick the brain of one of Chatham's most accomplished sabre fencers, Darren Yen, a 2019 graduate.
"He's coached me a few times," Xikes said. "He's taught me that you have to take advantage of your opponent's fears. If you make them miss and make them afraid to do certain things, you can take advantage of that and get the touch."
Xikes says there is a lot more conditioning in fencing than one might think. The idea is to repetitively work on technique and switching movements so that you become quicker through muscle memory.
"Timing is the most important thing in fencing," Xikes said. "If you're too early or too late, you'll miss the attack or they can see that you're switching and block you. There are a lot of factors that influence the way you hit. You just practice and keep doing it. It's rewarding because I know I'm getting better because of it."
One of Xikes' best strengths is predicting what other people are going to do on the strip and making smooth transitions. In the case of predicting Xikes' future, it's easy to figure there is an "A" in there somewhere.
Editor's note: The Athlete of the Week is sponsored by Chatham Wealth Management in recognition of the commitment a Chatham athlete has made to their sport, their school and their community. For over twenty years, Chatham Wealth Management has been committed to putting our clients first by crafting customized investment solutions. Call us at 973-635-4275 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how we can help meet your financial goals. To learn more about our products and team, visit us at www.chathamwealth.com.