CHATHAM, NJ - When Darren Yen takes his place on the fencing strip, he's hoping his mind works as fast as his body.
"You can be very fast and physically fit, but if you can't trick your opponent, it's kind of pointless," Yen said. "The style in sabre is a lot faster (than epee or foil) and you have to make decisions right off the bat. There is a lot more strategic thinking. You really have to plan out everything."
The Chatham High sophomore has been thinking and reacting successfully with his sabre weapon this season, helping the Cougars win the sabre team title and taking the individual championship at the Morris County Tournament held Jan. 7 at Randolph High.
Darren Yen is the Hawk Allstate Chatham Athlete of the Week.
Chatham started its fencing program in 2010 and is gaining momentum in the sport with its boys and girls teams this season. Leading the way in name recognition has been Yen, who has earned a USA Fencing "C" rating.
"Most high school fencers are not rated at all," Jerry Duffey, Chatham sabre coach, said. "He earned his 'C,' skipping over 'D,' during last year's season. The ratings are not linear in their ability level, more like exponential.
"It is a pleasure to have him on the team. He contributes his time and knowledge to the sabre squad and the whole team, teaching and working with the other members. He really loves fencing and it is very impressive to watch him fence against opponents at his level. Darren is currently undefeated in the NJAC as the A-strip sabre."
The 15-year-old Yen has been fencing since he was in sixth grade, and he does most of his training with coach Al Girof at the Integrity Fencing Studio in Chatham. It just so happens that his main sabre competition in Morris County comes from R.J. Guzman of Mendham, who also trains with Yen at the Chatham studio.
The Morris County Tournament sabre championship came down to Yen vs. Guzman.
"I was kind of shaking and thinking 'What am I going to do?' because he knows me so well," Yen said. "It's like rock, paper, scissors, it's a mind game really, and he knows it. When he's beaten me, he tells me after that I fell for the trap."
In sabre, it's faster paced because there are no breaks. Under the high school rules, the first one to five touches wins. Yen went back-and-forth with Guzman before winning the title, 5-4.
"My style is to welcome the attack first and make them miss," Yen said. "It's sort of like chess. You sacrifice the first piece to get an advantage."
A high-achieving student, Yen also finds time to play classical piano in his spare time, entering competitions and even performing at Carnegie Hall.
In his first year of fencing at Chatham last year, Yen placed fourth at the districts in the sabre and 16th at the individual state tournament.
At the prestigious Cetrulo Tournament, with nearly 40 teams competing at Drew University last weekend, Yen went 5-2, then 2-5 in the second pool. According to Duffey, the second pool included older fencers "who are already members of the Junior National Team and ranked in the top 15 junior fencers in the nation."
"The only complaint I have heard from him in the last two seasons has been, 'Coach, aren't we going to fence some more?' Which is what every coach wants to hear from his team members," Duffey said.
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