There is nothing quite like a national tournament to raise the stakes.
For Northpointe Fencing of Vancouver, the United States Fencing Association Junior Olympics in Portland provided a significant opportunity.
Not an opportunity for medals -- most of the Northpointe fencers are relatively new to the sport. But the Junior Olympics offered a chance to shift their fencing from a exercise in discipline to real competition.
A dozen fencers ages 19 and younger from the Orchards-area school qualified for the Junior Olympics, which concluded a four-day run on Monday at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Though not in contention for medals at the Junior Olympics, qualifying and participating was a step forward for the young fencers, according to their coach.
"A lot of these kids were pushed to try competition because the Junior Olympics were in Portland," Justin Meehan said.
Meehan moved to Vancouver from Louisiana 18 months ago to become Northpointe's Director of Fencing. He said one of his priorities was to place more emphasis on competition.
"We believe kids develop more purpose with competition," he said. "At his first competition, a fencer will change. Competition galvanizes their focus."
Focus is certainly important, whether a fencer is competing in the precision sport of foil or the more direct sabre.
"It's like a mind game," said eighth-grader Jazmine Shepard, who also plays multiple team sports. She took up fencing about 18 months ago, and qualified for the Junior Olympics in the under-17 foil and the épée.
She said she enjoys the complexity and individual challenges the sport.
Haylie Bolte, a junior at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, has been fencing for two years. She qualified for the Junior Olympics in the under-17 women's foil.
"I think I like the technicality of (foil) and I like the mental challenge," Bolte said. "Precision is good for me."
Jonas DeLisle sees another appeal to fencing.
"Stabbing people is really fun," he said with a smile.
DeLisle, who competed in cadet men's foil and for the Northpointe Fencing junior men's foil team at the Junior Olympics, was a gymnast for seven years. He moved from Northpointe Gymnastics to the next-door fencing program 21/2 years ago. The sports are different challenges, he said.
"In gymnastics, you need a lot of physical strength," DeLisle said. "In fencing you need more endurance."
Kaela Meehan, who won seven state championships in Louisiana, moved to Vancouver in December to join her father. A veteran of national tournaments, she described the fencing community as close-knit.
Kaela Meehan, 19, placed 90th in both the épée and sabre at this Junior Olympics, her fourth.
Fitness and calm demeanor are critical for success, she said.
"I find it very difficult to fence frustrated and angry," she said.
Also representing Northpointe in individual events at the Junior Olympics were Zachary Marquis (junior men's épée), Isobel Fife (cadet women's sabre and épée). Northpointe also qualified men's teams for the sabre (Levi Condren, Chris Emerson, Dylan Meehan and Josh Meehan), the épée (Simon Bard, Condren, Marquis and Josh Meehan), and the foil (Condren, DeLisle, Devon Johnson and Dylan Meehan).