In her first three seasons on the Princeton University fencing team, Eliza Stone had already put together a glittering resume.
The Chicago, Ill. native had placed eighth, second, and third in the saber at the NCAA championships to earn All-American honors and was also a three-time All-Ivy League performer.
But Stone decided she had to branch out to get the most out her fencing. “Coming into senior year, I realized that I would have to stop fencing at the end unless I started doing internationals,” said Stone.
“Everything in my fencing changed. Kat [sophomore teammate Katharine Holmes] and I made a pact to go for the senior national team. We decided to go for it together.”
Stone went to national competitions in the fall and competed internationally in England and France in January, piling up enough points to be in the mix to make the senior national team.
Upon returning to the U.S. to wrap up the college season, Stone won the saber at the NCAA championships and helped Princeton win the national combined team title.
In May, Stone was formally named to the U.S. saber team, having accumulated points at various tournaments through a system employed by U.S. Fencing during a window of time that closed in May.
Next week, Stone will be competing in the World Fencing Championships in Budapest Hungary, which runs from August 5-12.
In reflecting on making the national team, Stone is a bit stunned at how far she has come since making the pact with Holmes.
“It was definitely a good feeling, I was very happy,” said Stone. “It was great: I was not even on the point list at the beginning of the year. I was working my way steadily to make the team.”
For Stone, fencing has definitely been a family affair as she took up the sport at age 10 along with younger sister Gracie and younger brother Robert, both now saber All-American for Princeton along with their older sister.
“I did ballet a lot but I hated it,” said Stone. “My dad was trying to find something for us to do. He saw an ad for a fencing club downtown next to a pizza parlor. He told us about it and we were like fencing, OK. We all started at the same time.”
While Stone started out specializing in the epee, she turned to the saber due to family considerations.
“I went to epee and I thought this was pretty good,” said Stone. “My siblings were all doing saber and my dad said I don’t want to have to do different schedules for different weapons so I switched to saber.”
It didn’t take long for Stone to master her new weapon. “I started going to nationals,” said Stone.
“I started beating up my brother in practice so I loved the saber. I was beating the other boys in practice. I did my first national U-10 and I got a medal; I was in the top eight.”
While Stone was a force on the U.S. scene, she didn’t get the chance to make the same impact on the international stage.
“Fencing is really expensive and it is an individual sport,” said Stone. “You have to pay for the plane ride. I went to the nationals a few times a year but it is $2,000 a pop to go to international events and that wasn’t in my budget. I did go to the Cadet World Cup in Canada and won; I was thinking I should do more international events.”
Coming to Princeton in 2009, Stone put international competitions on the backburner as she concentrated on the college scene.
“It was tough going to tournaments every weekend and doing the schoolwork at college,” said Stone.
“I was home-schooled so going to the library and working on my own wasn’t that different. The academics was keeping me very busy and I was focused on the NCAA competition. I am here to study and I can only do it once.
The arrival of Holmes at Princeton changed Stone’s thinking on adding international events to her schedule.
“Kat came to Princeton when I was a junior,” said Stone. “I saw her as a freshman going off to internationals and still keeping up with academics. I saw it was possible. It kind of opened the door for me to do internationals.”
This winter, Stone closed her Princeton career in style, winning the NCAA championship in saber and helping the Tigers to the combined team title.
“It was like some sort of Disney movie where everything comes through at the end,” said Stone, reflecting on the NCAA competition held in San Antonio, Texas.
“I was in the top 8 in the NCAAs as a freshman and I was in the top 4 as a sophomore and junior. In my sophomore year, I got to the gold medal match. I made it my goal to get at least one gold medal.”
Seeing the Tigers achieve their goal of a team title was equally. if not more satisfying for Stone.
“For the team, it was the culmination of four years of work for me and the other seniors,” said Stone, who was later named as one of the recipients of the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award, the highest senior female student-athlete award at Princeton.
“We had been close, we knew we could do it. There is luck involved. There are lots of bouts and if the 5-4 decisions go against you, it can be tough. The guys left us in a good position to make a run for first. We knew we had the talent; we just had to have the right focus.”
In mid-June just after graduating from Princeton, Stone showed her focus as she took second at the Pan American Championships in an important tune-up for the worlds. Holmes joined her at the competition and took second in the epee.
“It was good that we went together; we were cheering each other,” said Stone, reflecting on Holmes’ presence in the meet held at in Cartagena, Colombia.
“We were supporting and helping each other. She lost 15-14 in the final to one of the Hurley sisters [Courtney]. I was down 10-2 in my final and got it to 15-12, going against an Olympian [Mariel Zagunis of the U.S.]”
As Stone looks ahead to the worlds, where she will be competing along with Holmes and two fellow Tigers alums, women’s epeeist May Lawrence ’02 and men’s epee performer Soren Thompson ’05, she is going all out.
“I am working on conditioning and trying to get in the best shape possible,” said Stone.
“The saber team will be going to camp in Poland for two weeks. We will be training with Ukrainians and some other international teams. Then we go directly to Budapest.”
Stone believes she can do some big things in Budapest. “After the Pan Am Championships, I am in the top 16,” said Stone. “I am allowed to skip the first day of competition and go directly into the second day. I am starting in the top 64; that is good but there is also pressure, I don’t want to lose my first match. I am hoping for the top 16.”
After the progress she has made this year, Stone is hoping to reach the top of her sport by earning a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I do want to go for Rio,” asserted Stone. “I am looking for a job. Two of the three Princeton fencers on the national team are training in New York City and I will work at a club with them. I will also train with my coach at Princeton.”