skip navigation

Olympian Katharine Holmes Gains a Second Family at Princeton

03/23/2017, 8:00am CDT
By Kristen Henneman

Kat Holmes (right) with Princeton and U.S. National Teammate Anna van Brummen.

Katharine Holmes is a 2016 Olympian who has competed in dozens of countries around the world and stood on the podium at Senior World Cups and the Junior World Championships.

But the moment Holmes considers the best of her fencing career?

Clinching the Ivy League Championship for Princeton at the Ivy League Fencing Round-Robins this past February.

“When your team of 30 individuals who are all focused on the same goal is fencing on some random gym floor at UPenn for the Ivy League Championship, that energy can the same as or greater than at the Olympics just because you have that human force behind it,” said Holmes, who will be one of the leaders of the Princeton Fencing Team when the Tigers compete at the NCAA Championships in Indianapolis beginning on Thursday.

The moment was full of pressure and excitement as Holmes found herself taking on Columbia’s Amy Tong in a winner-take-all final bout. Princeton and Columbia had five wins each going into the final match and the score between the two teams was deadlocked at 13 when Holmes and Tong took the strip.

Holmes lost the first touch, but rebounded to take a 4-2 lead, eventually winning 5-3 for the deciding 14th point. She ripped her mask off to celebrate, her team running onto the strip, yelling right there with her.

“Have I won five-touch bouts before? Yes. Have I won medals before? Yes. But all of these people and all of this energy culminating in that one moment, it wasn’t just about me winning a five-touch bout or Princeton beating Columbia,” Holmes said. “It was about all these people who’d put all that effort in, culminating in what we’d all worked for all season in that last touch.”

The championship is the Princeton women’s fencing team’s second consecutive title and seventh in eight years. Holmes was 18-0 in the tournament, winning the individual women’s epee title and earning First Team All-Ivy honors.

“As a team, it was a perfect moment, but also getting to clinch the Ivy League Championship bout my senior year, how more perfect could it be on the individual level?” Holmes said.

While the sport Holmes fell in love with is known as an individual one, it’s the team aspect of collegiate fencing that has made her experience at Princeton so special.

When Holmes started at Princeton as a freshman in 2011, Holmes quickly found her niche with the team and comfort in the support they offered her, becoming her family away from home.

“I had a place immediately. The team from day one swooped in and [was] like, ‘Hey come hang out with us’ … so I immediately had a family,” Holmes said. “Because I’ve been here for so long, I’ve had so many iterations of that family, and it’s really grown to expand a vast number of people, and as I’ve grown I’ve filled different roles in that family, from the little kid that doesn’t know what they’re doing to now I’m the one helping the freshman out. Throughout my time at Princeton, they’ve always been there. They’re there to coach you at the tournaments, but they’re also there for ‘I just failed that test. I don’t know what to do,’ or ‘my boyfriend just broke up with me. I don’t know what to do.’”

And like any family, there are plenty of favorite memories for Holmes. While many take place on the strip, it’s the small moments spending time with her teammates she’ll remember most, like the time during her junior year when they turned a bad day at a tournament and a long trip home during a snow storm into a bonding opportunity. After finally making it back, they headed to dinner, and she remembers the fun conversations and singing to Taylor Swift in the car with her teammates.

“It was just such a bad day and it turned into such a fun night,” Holmes said. “We were talking about the season. It is one of my fondest memories of being with the team and there was nothing super special about it, but it was so quintessential of what this team is and how we pull together and we just have a good time.”

Even when Holmes took two years off from Princeton to focus on training for the Olympic Games, her teammates continued to be there. They helped with extra practice and gave moral support, making cards and providing positive messages in moments of doubt.

“They’ve always been there and particularly while I was qualifying for the Olympics, where I was taking those two years off and fencing really became my life, I don’t know if I could’ve done it without the support of both my teammates, and obviously my coach [Zoltan Dudas],” Holmes said. “Just the fact that during that time, there were moments when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself or believe that I could do it, but having a group of like 30 people that always believed in me and always believed I could do it, that instilled in me the idea that I could do it and I think carried me through qualification.”

And, although she couldn’t help her teammates at competitions, they were ready to celebrate when she qualified for Rio last March.

“When I walked into the gym, everybody stopped practice and just started clapping and they’d made me a card and bought me a cake and my three best friends on the team came over and started crying and then I started crying,” Holmes said. “Everybody was so genuinely happy.”

According to Holmes, reintegrating back to the team after a two-year break has been seamless. Now heading into her fourth NCAA Championships, the senior studying neurological science and psychology is undoubtedly a leader on the squad and hopes to bring her Olympic experience back to her team.

“I think that’s the biggest takeaway I have is trusting in my game and imposing my game and then not getting flustered when it doesn’t seem to be working because I have enough statistical evidence from the past however many years that I’ve fenced, that this is a good plan and that it works,” Holmes said.

As one of seven seniors for the Tigers, Holmes also understands what it takes to bring home the NCAA championship as she helped Princeton win the 2013 title – the first in the program’s history since the men’s and women’s team events were combined in 1990. After a third-place finish last year, Princeton has earned a top-four finish in each of the past six seasons, which is the longest active streak in the nation.

Heading into the NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional earlier this month, the Princeton women’s team was ranked No. 1 in the nation, dropping just one match all season. However, Princeton will face an uphill battle for the NCAA title, qualifying 11 out of the maximum 12 fencers – one shy of the full teams fielded by two-time reigning champion Columbia and Notre Dame who won the 2011 title.

“What I remember most about winning it (in 2013) was how unaware I was of the fact that we’d won it … So we all knew that we had a chance to win, but I had no sense of how we were doing throughout the whole day because I was very much fencing my bouts,” Holmes said. “I think that being said, that’s the right mentality to go into the whole tournament with. We shouldn’t be super focused on how many bouts we have versus how many bouts other people have. We just have to be really focused on our job and our job is to win each touch to win a five-touch bout to win the whole thing.”

Individually, Holmes has had her best collegiate season to date, going 51-2. After taking third at Regionals, Holmes looks to better her bronze medal from her freshman season and add an individual title to her list of accolades.

“I want to win, but in order to get there, I have to focus on one bout at a time, and it’s a lot of bouts. Twenty-three bouts – I’ve been in that position where a couple bouts don’t go well and then you go in this downward spiral,” Holmes said. “But unlike a World Cup or a NAC or something where you have six pool bouts and then you reset and have DEs, where it’s 15 touches and you have longer to play with it, you really have to go into each bout saying, ‘This is my plan. I’m going to enact my plan. If it doesn’t go right, that’s okay. It’s still my plan’ and I just have to go into the next bout with that same mentality of ‘Whatever. Forget the last bout. New bout. Still my plan. My plan has worked how many time before.’ So it’s really just a matter of staying positive and staying really focused throughout the whole day.”

But even when Holmes speaks of her individual goals, she includes her teammates, hoping for their success as much as her own.

“My teammate that qualified with me, Anna van Brummen – she won a World Cup earlier this year – she’s a super awesome fencer and we work really, really well together, so when I say individual result, I kind of mean the both of us,” Holmes said. “I want us both to be in that final because I think we both can be and I think our greatest chances of doing that are to work with each other as we’ve been doing all season.”

Holmes is one of 144 athletes from 27 colleges and universities who will be competing at the NCAA Fencing Championships in Indianapolis from Thursday through Sunday. Follow results live at

Tag(s): Kat Holmes