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Rochester, Kasson teens earn bouts in Junior Olympics

Mateo Wilkins, 17, of Rochester, and Ethan Brewner, 14, of Kasson, head to Salt Lake City to compete in February.

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Youth Enrichment League director and coach, Kamau Wilkins, center, gives pointers to Mateo Wilkins, his son, left, and Mushaf Hashmi, right. Contributed photo.
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Two Southeast Minnesota fencers are heading to the USA Fencing Junior Olympics in Salt Lake City.

For Mateo Wilkins, 17, of Rochester, it will be his second trip to compete at that level. Ethan Brewner, 14, of Kasson, qualified after a year of fencing competition.

Mateo, whose father coaches fencing with the Youth Enrichment League, took up the sport in part to spend time with his father.

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Brewner tried the sport for a while years ago, but has only taken it up seriously in the last year, said his mother, Kate Brewner.

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“It’s been very motivating for him to be this successful this early,” she said.

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Ethan Brewner, the fencing competitor on the left, scores a point Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, at a fencing tournament in Peoria, Ill. Contributed photo.

Brewner is in the YEL program and fences with Rochester Youth Fencers.

“He’s worked hard and put in as much time as he can,” Kate Brewner said.

Mateo said he’s looking forward to returning to the event. He said he was nervous the last time and believes he’ll do better now that he knows what to expect.

His enthusiasm to qualify for the event and compete almost hurt his chances of qualifying for a national competition he’s in this weekend.

In a fencing tournament last month, Wilkins felt something was wrong with his knee. A good placing in the tournament would qualify him for a national championship.

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Mateo Wilkins
Mateo Wilkins sets during a fencing match. Contributed photo.

He performed through it. Then his hamstring started hurting.

“He was losing matches he shouldn’t have,” said Kamau Wilkins, Mateo’s coach and father. “He was done, there was nothing left to fight for here.”

The best option would be to drop out and qualify at another tournament, Kamau said.

Mateo didn’t agree.

“I was hoping for a miraculous comeback,” Mateo said.

What would likely have happened is he would have wound up with a serious injury in addition to not winning the tournament or qualifying for a national competition.

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Mateo Wilkins, left, has a chat with fencing Olympian Muhammed Hassan, right, before bowing out of a tournament to prevent serious injury. Contributed photo.

If Mateo wouldn’t have listened to his dad, Kamau found someone to step in — fencing Olympian Muhammed Hassan who was attending and coaching at the tournament.

Hassan asked Mateo for an honest self-assessment. Mateo admitted he was hurt and bowed out. Kamau surreptitiously captured the moment with his cellphone camera.

“It was hard,” Mateo said. “It was probably the first time I dropped out of an event.”

But the decision meant Mateo could rest, recover and then return to competition later in the month to seal a seed in a national tournament and qualify for the Junior Olympics for the second time.

The USA Fencing Junior Olympics is Feb. 18-21.

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Mateo Wilkins, 14, center, and Mushaf Hashmi, 11, get their equipment on as coach Kamau Wilkins, also Mateo's dad, helps during practice for the Rochester Montessori School fencing team, part of the Southeast Minnesota Youth Enrichment League, Friday, April 12, 2019, at the school in Rochester.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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