MILLBURN, NJ - Millburn High School Foil Squad standout Zohaib Mannan dazzled in an average season for the Millburn boys fencing team who went 9-7. Mannan only spent three years in the MHS fencing program. After showing promise in his freshman year, and dominance in his sophomore year, Mannan stepped aside from the high school strip to focus on his academics during his junior year. He returned this year as a senior with the Millers and excelled.
Mannan continued his involvement in club level fencing including the Fencer's Club in Manhattan and most recently at Brooklyn Bridge Fencing Club where he switched coaches to the strategic Dan Kellner. “Coach always tells me that every bout is like a chess match,” said Mannan. “I now go into each bout with a plan. He just made me a smarter fencer. Going into my senior year, I was very excited to see my results from all my training with my new coach.”
Although Mannan has always been a premiere high school fencer, the state championship tournament was new territory. He was never able to participate in states during his first two years of high school fencing. In his freshman year, Mannan happened to be competing in a tournament in Italy during the qualifiers. In Sophomore year, he qualified for states, but was unable to compete due to a conflicting tournament in Nevada.
The competition of 20 fencers in three pools grew narrower and narrower as the elite competitors rose to the top of each group. Mannan escaped the first two pools with a 4-2 record in each. Although Mannan made it to the third pool, his second round was tarnished by a 5-1 loss to Columbia High School’s Jack Woods. Mannan fenced against Woods before, and knew going into the tournament that he faced stiff competition. After restrategizing, Mannan surged through an undefeated third round, including a 5-4 win over Woods, to take the state title.
Mannan’s talent is a product of natural ability and hard work. Every weekday after school, except Thursday, Mannan commutes to practice in Brooklyn until 8:00 pm and he often arrives home in Millburn by 10:00 pm. Weekends are not a time for rest as Mannan's Saturday mornings are also dedicated to practice. This intense training schedule is peppered with tournaments once a month and has taken him all over the globe from Nevada, and California, to Hungary, France, and Italy.
“Freshman year was hard. I was struggling, adjusting to it. That's when my fencing just skyrocketed” said Mannan. “It was a real challenge to mix that with work. I had to work on the plane or work in the car. I had to take tests late. Sophomore year, I got used to it. Coming home late, the whole routine. Junior year was really hard because I had to increase my studies and my fencing. I had to take all these AP classes, and study for the ACT, and impress coaches, but I ended up pulling through.”
Many wonder why a high school student, in four critical years of his life would want to sacrifice so much of his precious time and dedicate it to fencing. Mannan is happy he took the leap. “Before fencing, I played little league. I was just struggling standing out” Mannan said. “My parents were thinking it’s because the coaches played their kids at the good positions. So, we were looking for a new sport and chose fencing because my sister did high school fencing. I like fencing because it’s a unique sport, it's an individual sport, and you have to have a lot of stamina. Like most kids, I had an interest in fencing because of Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Mannan is set to attend NYU in the fall and will continue to meet opponents on the strip.