Fencing matches bear little resemblance to Zorro movies. Bouts last only three minutes and feature as much bouncing and pausing as thrusting and parrying.
But within those short bursts of attack, the MIT women’s fencing team has found time to dominate. In February, the Engineers won the three-weapon (foil, saber, and epee) team title at the New England Championships for the seventh year in a row. They finished the 2004-05 season atop the Northeast Fencing Conference for the fifth consecutive year–a result all the more impressive considering that in fencing, the three NCAA divisions compete against one another. That means MIT’s Division III fencers face scholarship athletes from Division I schools. Three of the Engineers–Suki Dorfman ‘05 and Gemma Mendel ‘06 in foil and Drew Reese ‘07 in saber–were named to the conference all-star team. Dorfman, who is captain of the team, won the foil event at the 2005 New England Championships for the fourth consecutive time, establishing a conference record. She went on to compete in the NCAA Women’s Fencing Championships in March.
Yet 60 percent of the MIT fencers had had no experience before college. So why is the team so strong? “Fencing is a really good fit for MIT,” says Jarek Koniusz, who just finished his 11th season as head coach at MIT. “Some call it physical chess,” explains Dorfman.
But maybe Koniusz is being too modest. Dorfman credits him with the team’s success, saying he tailors training to his athletes’ needs and gives individual lessons to every team member. Men and women fence each other in practice, which some of the women say greatly improves their skills. And the team has become more serious in recent years; there are now two-week-long tryouts every fall, and many fencers who make the squad stick with the sport throughout their MIT careers.
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