When intensity pays a visit, it’s time to turn things up a notch and really go for it. Matthew Comes says bolstering your mental game and finishing strong is what needs to occur in those situations.
The 19-year-old Bothell fencer stood tall — all 6 feet, 2 inches of him — hung on to his lead and reaped success with a USA Fencing Division 1A Men’s Epee national championship on July 1 in St. Louis, Missouri.
In the senior division match, Comes was knocking on victory’s door with a 14-10 lead, but then his 48-year-old opponent Mehmet Tepedelenlioglu of San Francisco added some drama into the mix by staging a comeback. However, Comes gripped onto his lead and won, 15-13.
“My parents were watching live at home, and my mom called me after and said, ‘Why did you have to make us so worried?’” Comes said.
Comes, who represented the Washington Fencing Academy of Issaquah, graduated from Bothell High in 2017 and is a member of the Ohio State University squad, which took third place at the NCAA Division I championships in March.
He began fencing eight years ago at a WFA camp held at the Northshore YMCA and soon replaced soccer and swimming as his main sport.
“I was like, ‘Oh, cool, swords, I’m gonna try that,” said Comes, adding that it’s a unique and interesting sport that provides a full-body workout. Presently, he’s in the best shape of his life.
Comes’ fencing timeline includes winning his second tournament at 12 years old, earning a handful of Western Washington Division titles over the last seven years — including three-weapon titles in foil, epee and sabre — winning a gold medal in the national Division 3 category in 2014 and a bronze in 1A last year at nationals. He once brought home a big sword trophy and was recruited to fence at OSU, where he is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering.
After the Northshore camp, he began training with camp coach Kevin Mar at WFA’s Issaquah facility and qualified for the 2011 United States Junior Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Epee is Comes’ main event where fencers have to be strategic to score points anywhere on their opponent’s body.
“For me, it’s helped me become even more analytical than I already was,” he said. “Fencing is sometimes called physical chess because there’s a lot of mental game and thinking about how you’re gonna work with your opponent, what you’re gonna do in response to stuff that they do, how you’re gonna try to make them do things so that you can score the touch.”
Comes said that fencing factors into other aspects of his life, for example, what his next move may be each day or in the future.
While back in town for the summer, Comes is teaching fencing to elementary school students at camps in Redmond and Bellevue.
“I enjoy working with other people and trying to spread the knowledge, ‘cause fencing is such an uncommon sport, so getting more people into it is always great. There’s lots of kids out there that want to try something new,” he said.
Fencing is a sport that can last a lifetime for people as Comes has seen competitors range in age from 10 to over 70. He’s made some of his best friends within the fencing community, got his dad into the sport and has gained invaluable lessons from training with OSU teammate Marc-Antoine Blais Belanger, who won an epee title at the NCAA tournament this year.
Comes said that competing in the Olympics is a dream for all fencers and he wouldn’t mind taking his talent onto that grand stage someday.