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Changing of the guards: Rookie Concepcion claims men’s sabre individual gold

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For at least the past eight years in the UAAP, a graduating male sabreur had never left the piste with the gold medal. This year was no different.

First-year fencer CJ Concepcion kept the “curse” going as he reclaimed the men’s individual sabre title back for University of the East, with a dominant win over reigning champion and graduating University of the Philippines stalwart Jolo Ferrer, 15-5, Wednesday afternoon at the Ateneo Blue Eagle Gym.

The two finalists earlier dominated the competition by sweeping their respective pools with five victories each and posting point differences of 10 apiece over the others in their groups. Ferrer and Concepcion only allowed at most 3 points from their counterparts. Despite the tie, the senior Fighting Maroon was assigned the top of the draw, leaving the rookie Red Warrior to tackle the other half.

Nevertheless, it was a smooth ride to the destined matchup. Well, at least for Ferrer. The reigning gold medallist woke up from slump and came back to dispose Ateneo’s Ethan Bennett, 15-10, in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, he bucked cramps at the interval to upend the other UE rookie Malcolm Valena, 15-4, to reach his third straight championship bout.

On his part, Concepcion faced a tough fight against David Lumahan of Far Eastern University in the quarter-finals. Facing a 14-all stalemate, the rookie recalled, “May practice kasi kami about kung 14-all o last point na; inisip ko siya. Actually nun, napressure na ko. Yung takbo na lang ng utak ko gumagana.” With that in mind, Concepcion pulled off a late-touché win to move on to the Final Four. The former UE Red Page then repeated a similar tight victory in the semifinals against another former Page and now Green Fencer, Towie Licono, 15-12, to snare a chance at the gold.

“Actually inisip ko lang lagi yung mga ginagawa namin.Sinasabi lahat ni coach kung ano yung gagawin. Yung importante talaga dun yung sundín mo yung sinasabi ng coach,” Concepcion shared on what he had done right throughout the competition. He also admitted that he had felt the pressure on all fronts: firstly, due to the legacy of UE’s alumni sabreurs and generally, because of the overall championship that the school is defending.

However, the pressure was not evident with how Concepcion tackled the grizzled veteran Ferrer. With the fifth-year Maroon visibly still in pain, the rookie slowly took advantage of the fact and slowly strung together a handful of points. Adreline fuelled Ferrer for a fight back, but the lead was insurmountable and simple flick hit to the hand ended the bout in favor of UE.

After his win and with gratitude to his coaches’ trust, Concepcion exclaimed, “Naging successful po, yun ang naging feeling ko.” Nevertheless, despite the possible Rookie of the Year award looming, the upstart said, “Ayaw ko kasi yung may lalapit na, ‘Uy, idol.’ Kung para sa kanila ako, sa akin hindi pa; mas kailangan ko pang mag-improve.”

Grew to appreciate various sports from tennis to judo. True-maroon kiddo since the new millennium. Fanboy. Singer. Occasional sports writer.

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