MIT Sport Taekwondo experienced twin marvels at the Feb. 25 New York University tournament — the team's narrowest victory in nearly two years and arguably this season's most exciting confrontation against perennial rivals Cornell and Tufts.
By the end of the day, MIT had bested 14 regional schools for the No. 1 spot, outdoing Cornell by a scant 54 points.
The Engineer's unyielding excitement was evident from the first matches where the team rallied behind advanced division (A-Team) competitors Aaron L. Sampson '10, Jaroslaw Labaziewicz G, and Nicholas W. Hong '10, who fell in a narrow overtime loss to Rutgers.
The men's A1 team (co-captain John T. Wong G, John C. Ho G, and Richard-Duane S. Chambers G) moved into the finals at high speed, allowing them to secure a medal for the first time this year before losing to the incumbent champion, Tufts University, after a series of highly competitive and widely-lauded bouts.
In the meantime, co-captain Erica Y. Chan '07 overcame injury to help propel her teammates, fellow co-captain Rene R. Chen '07, and Sharon A. Lawrence '07 to a silver medal behind Cornell's top women.
With the tone set, MIT's novice competitors (C-Team) moved forward with remarkable victories against Cornell, BU, UMASS, and Harvard. The men, while introducing newcomers Wenxian Hong '10, Arun Devabhaktuni '09, and Joey Y. Zhou '08, captured a bronze medal due to the tenacity of their top team, Ning Wu G, Omar E. Fernandez '10, and Thomas B. Brown '09. Ad interim, the women collected gold through a series of impressive performances by Jaclyn J. Ho '09, Miranda J. Ha '07, and newcomer Stephanie R. Chiang '08, who proved that even the MIT team's newest members could fight and win against the best.
Not long after, rookie competitors Stephanie E. Nix '09 and Christine Chin '09 pushed MIT even farther ahead of the competition by dominating the division for first time fighters (D-Team) while fellow beginner Han Zhu '09 showed off her new-found skills by securing a bronze medal in that division.
The day's sparring came to an end under the purview of the intermediate (Bteam) players, led by Wu, Labaziewicz, and Chambers for the men and Jennifer L. Caplin '07, Christine M. Lee '09, and Corinna Hui '09 for the women. Though the men, supported by Arpun R. Nagaraja '08, Christopher J. Han '09, and Nathan P. Wang '08, managed bronze in the face of an especially strong Cornell showing, the women's teams captured both gold (Caplin, Lee, and Hui) and silver (Ho, Ha, and Chiang), ending the day on a high note for the MIT teams.
With sparring completed and the competition between Cornell and MIT a dead heat, the day's victory rested on the outcome of the forms competition, completed earlier. Again, MIT shone through consistent demonstration of flexibility, crisp technique, and the powerful execution of kicks and strikes.
Yellow belt Chiang managed to secure a silver medal on her first outing, while her teammate Ha took gold amongst the women's green belt group. Elsewhere, fellow sparring teammates Lee and Hui showed off the prowess that they would maintain throughout the competition, easily commandeering the first and second place spots among blue belt women. Co-captains Chan and Chen repeated the feat in the black belt division, with Chan's near vertical side kicks propelling her to gold and Chen's clean maneuvering assuring her bronze.
As in sparring, the men were similarly strong, dominating at the green belt level, where Wu's conspicuous power warranted a silver medal and Zhou's standout performance commanded gold. Among blue belts, Han and Nagaraja double medaled, seizing gold and bronze, while Labaziewicz ably took bronze, his first competition medal in forms, for the red belt men.
When all was said and done, MIT had overcome injury, sickness, and a particularly rushed tournament pace in order to allow all of its competitors to shine, with each competing at an extremely high level. Fresh off the heels of its victory, team members are now preparing to reclaim their 2004 title as National Collegiate Champions in Texas on March 30.