Photo Courtesy of goleopards.com
From looking at his resume, one would not doubt that Joel Thompson has all of the tools for success.
Coming from Drew University, the first year head coach is a decorated fencer that brings a wealth of experience. As a teenager, football was his first passion. But when an unexpected injury sidelined his playing days, he decided to pick up fencing with a friend.
Thompson was a natural. He took third in his first tournament ever, and within 18 months of starting, he had qualified for the national championships. He attended UNC at Chapel Hill, where he qualified for the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament twice in the Epee division and made the Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Honor Roll in 2008-2009.
After graduating, Thompson joined the coaching staff at Drew University, where they won the MACFAs and placed fifth in the NCAAs. But when the opportunity presented itself, Thompson was determined to get the head job.
“I love the school,” Thompson said. “It’s a Division I program and has a great player pool to choose from.”
Besides coaching, Thompson is attending Rutgers for a Master’s in history. When asked if going to school and coaching would be too much, he reminisced of his days as a fencer:
“UNC had a reputation for being demanding of their athletes. This is no more difficult that being a student-athlete.”
Rutgers may also be the source of his nickname: the Viking.
“I’m 6-3 with blond hair and a beard,” Thompson said. “I look like a Viking. My primary study is Vikings. In class, I introduce myself as the Viking guy. In a history class you have the Euro guy, the war guy…well, I’m the Viking guy.”
With his experience, Thompson is going to bring a whole new coaching style to the table: “I’m going to bring what [previous coach] Ron Miller gave me at UNC to Lafayette.”
Thompson already has high hopes for the future. Last year, the men finished eighth out of 15 teams while the women finished seventh out of 18 teams.
“We have plenty of room to grow,” Thompson said. “[Former coach] Tom Gauntner wasn’t able to be at practice every day and micromanage every detail. I’m going to focus on giving individual attention.”
Thompson already has his team working on conditioning and has already started actively recruiting, including talking to several state champions.
“I’m optimistic with a larger team in mind for the future,” Thompson said.
One setback has been coaching students who are just a few years younger than him. With his decorated background, however, he believes he has already gained the respect needed.
“It would be different, but I’m meeting a lot of these students for the first time,” Thompson said. “It’s like being a T.A.”