Sophomore Illini fencer travels to Junior Olympics

Christie Barchenger

Christie Barchenger

By Christie Barchenger

Michelle DeSitter, member of the Fencing Illini, will travel to Hartford, Conn., to compete in the 2006 Junior Olympics fencing competition on Feb. 18.

This will be the first national competition for DeSitter, sophomore in FAA, who began fencing two and a half years ago. She will be competing in the women’s 20-and-under division, which is one of four categories. She said the tournament will include at least 1,700 competitors.

“I’m excited,” DeSitter said. “It’ll be my first really big tournament. I’ve been to big (competitions) in Chicago, but I’ve never been to a national event.”

When competing, DeSitter said she tries to focus on her mental game as much as possible.

“I’ve found it’s best to spend most of the time out there just trying to make your opponent do what you want them to do,” she said. “If you have that kind of control, then you’re in a good position.”

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Rebecca Schneider, the fencing director and head foil coach at The Point Fencing Club, 500 N. Walnut St., is one of DeSitter’s coaches.

“(DeSitter) is competitive, and she’s thinking ahead, and she desires to become better,” Schneider said. “She’s passionate about this sport.”

Schneider said she began fencing for the first time 11 years ago with the Fencing Illini, a registered student organization at the University. She soon focused on the competitive aspect of fencing, a sport requiring both mental and physical agility.

“I would have to say that it’s physical chess at speed,” Schneider said.

The Point Fencing Club’s facility in Champaign has been home to the Fencing Illini for the past two years, DeSitter said. The club offers three levels of group fencing instruction. The classes, which begin new sessions every three months, have seen a recent increase in enrollment, Schneider said.

“We’re having a growing spurt right now, which is very exciting,” Schneider said. “Our (Fencing I class) is the best program to introduce fencing. You’re going to know whether you like fencing at all after Fencing I.”

Benjamin Sandkam, freshman in LAS, began taking Fencing I three weeks ago.

“(I joined) for a new experience, and so I can stab my friends without getting in trouble,” Sandkam said.

“I think I’m gaining lightning-quick reflexes,” he added.

Rebecca Bott, junior in LAS, is the current president of the Fencing Illini. She began fencing her senior year of high school and encourages anyone who is interested in the sport to become involved.

“Be willing to try it,” Bott said. “Don’t be afraid if you’re not coordinated or you’re not particularly athletic.”