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Fencing Strong at Nationals As Purcell Takes NCAA Sabre Championship

By Philip W. Miller and Evan Efstathiou
TEAM MEMBERS

The fencing team finished off its 1999-2000 season by sending four fencers to the NCAA Division I National Championships. Men’s epee fencer Neal Devaraj ’02, Men’s sabre fencer Phil Miller ’01, and Women’s sabre fencers Caroline Purcell ’02 and Cappy Gray ’00 were selected to represent MIT at Nationals. Purcell ’02 topped off her spectacular season by becoming the first MIT fencer ever to bring home an individual NCAA Championship last weekend at Stanford. Purcell and Gray placed third nationally among Women’s Sabre squads, as the team took 14th overall.

Purcell has dominated NCAA fencing all season, winning over 90 percent of her bouts for the year. In the past six weeks, she has won the New England Championships, IFA Championships, and NCAA Regional Championships. At Nationals, she continued to display her finely honed skills and speed to overpower the competition. In the round robin, she racked up an impressive 19-4 record to attain the number one ranking going into direct eliminations.

Purcell had her sights on NCAA finals since the beginning of the season. After wining the NCAA title she said, “I wanted to do the best I could by showing them what skills I had.” Purcell’s route to victory sums up her crushing performance. “I tensed up a bit early in the day, but relaxed knowing that I wanted to have fun,” said Purcell.

Purcell smites her opponents

Purcell had to face Megan Kates of tough rival St. John’s (NY) in her semi-final bout. Purcell jumped to a 10-4 lead, and only faltered for a moment on her way to a 15-12 victory. In the finals, she had to face a completely different style in Kim Treiber of UNC. Where Kates was precise and reserved, Treiber was aggressive and fast. This time, however, there wasn’t even a moment of falter from Purcell, who made a convincing statement for her place on the podium with a 15-6 victory. “I started off strong ... a 5-touch lead will make an opponent quit early ... I was able to take chances and experiment with different attacks,” the champion said.

Purcell started fencing at the New York Athletic Club at the age of ten. Despite her past accomplishments, she remains one of the hardest training people on the team. In non-collegiate competition, she ranks ninth in the country and first in the under-20 age category.

Gray earns top 15 spot, Miller grabs 19th in Sabre

Cappy Gray proved MIT womens’ sabre’s depth with a very respectable 13th place finish overall. Gray, who began fencing only a year and a half ago, managed victories over some of the best collegiate fencers. “She fences very well ... I am very impressed with [Cappy’s] progress,” fellow saberist Purcell said. Gray plans to continue to sharpen her skills on the non-collegiate circuit next year, as she will be graduating this year.

MIT’s strong contingent of sabrists was complemented by Phil Miller on the men’s side. Despite a number of ups and downs, Miller finished a very respectable 19th in Men’s Sabre with six wins in the tournament. He eagerly anticipates another chance to compete next year.

Proving that MIT is more than sabre, Neal Devaraj ’02 also qualified to fence at the NCAAs in the Men’s epee tournament. Devaraj made incredible strides this year, from being a second string starter last year to a bona fide A strip in a matter of months. He finished 24th at NCAAs.

“It was a great thrill to see four of our hardest-working fencers compete so ably at a national level,” said Coach Jarek Koniusz. “I am especially happy for Caroline, who has been an anchor for our women’s team all season. By finishing up as the second best Division III school and 14th best in the country, our fencers made a statement about the strength of our program and their own dedication.”

Purcell and Captain Evangelos Efstathiou ’00 will continue competing this weekend at a tournament of the best sabre fencers in the world. A combined total of ten MIT foil, epee, and sabre fencers will be competing at a U.S. Open in Cleveland, Ohio the following weekend.

Ming-Tai Huh contributed to this article.