Lichten Achieves Best MIT Fencing Result Since WWIIBy David Nauman
Not since World War II has an MIT fencer finished higher than third at the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships This year Keith Lichten '95 achieved a second place finish at the Division I Fencing Championships and was selected as a First Team All-American.
Division I represents the highest level of collegiate competition. Lichten, the team captain, was one of 10 epeeists to qualify from the Northeast, considered the strongest region in the country, and was one of the 30 fencers in his weapon to qualify nationally.
"The quality of the fencing [at the championships] was very high, attributed to the participation of many European fencers brought to this country on college scholarships," said Jarek Koniusz, who is finishing his first year as MIT's head coach.
"It is very difficult for Division III schools to qualify fencers to Division I nationals at all. Moreover, it is extremely challenging for a coach to work with the most academically talented students in the world and aim for the highest athletic goals as well," Koniusz said. He went on to express his hope that Lichten's achievement would be an incentive for others to challenge themselves.
A four-year varsity team member, Lichten has fenced well in both collegiate and national events. He placed second at the 1993 Under 20 National Championships, and went on to become two-time New England college champion. He was also twice chosen as a member of the Intercollegiate Fencing Association's First Team.
Lichten attributed his success to the strength of the coaching and the support of the team. "To be coached by Jarek, a world class fencer, was an opportunity that I did not expect at MIT," Lichten said.
Lichten also praised Robb Hubb, the epee coach. "Rob's strength is his ability to see the intricacies of a bout and to help you work past the problems." Lichten noted that it was the combination of both coaches that brought his fencing to a national level.
Lichten has great hope for the future of the team. "The strength of the women's team and the continued improvement of the men gives us a real chance to become competitive at the Division I level."
Lichten emphasized that the support of the administration has been crucial to the teams' growth.
Gordon Kelly, director of physical education, has worked with Koniusz in developing the PE program to expose a greater number of students to the sport. Lichten said, "The PE program is an important source of fencers for the team. Many people don't begin until college, but still go on to be successful at all levels."
Under Athletic Director Richard Hill, the recent expansion of the team with the addition of the women's epee squad was possible, and, with support of team alumni, improvements to equipment in the fencing room have been made.
Lichten will graduate in June with the championship a high point in his nine years of fencing. "Going the last few rounds undefeated and making it to the winner's podium was the best I've ever felt fencing." Lichten said. "I'm glad I was able to leave collegiate fencing this way."