Dulaney junior balances fencing, academics and activities

For Dulaney High junior Morgan LaRocca, there don't appear to be enough hours in the day to balance academics, extracurricular activities and fencing.

She takes four Advanced Placement classes and is a member of her school's National Art Honor Society, the Spoken Word Club, the History Club and the Gender Equality Club.

LaRocca, who carries a 3.65 grade-point average, also serves on the school's Live on Five News Team, producing and anchoring morning announcements.

She's a member at-large in the Model United Nations and is marketing manager of Dulaney's online literary arts magazine.

She is team manager of the girls' junior varsity soccer team and varsity lacrosse team and sings in a church group.

Oh, and she's an elite level fencer for the Baltimore Fencing Club in Timonium, where she competes year-round.

"What she does is amazing," Baltimore Fencing Club assistant coach Jonathan Ramirez said. "I'm very impressed how much time she puts into fencing while still keeping up with everything. It means that her mind is sharp and it makes her a great fencer."

In mid-February, the 17-year-old LaRocca competed in two divisions in the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships in Portland, Ore.

It's not the first time she qualified for the prestigious event during her seven years of competitive fencing.

LaRocca did it twice in middle school, but she said her mother, Elizabeth, wanted her to wait until high school before getting involved in such an intense level of competition.

There are three types of fencing, based on the sword: Foil, Epee and Sabre. The 5-foot-6 LaRocca battles in Foil, which uses the lightest weapon to strike an opponent above the midsection.

"It was a really amazing experience, and it was so great to be in such a competitive environment," LaRocca said of her time in Portland. "I got the opportunity to learn what great fencers are like. I'm just stepping up. I'm closer to being at that level."

LaRocca handled the Junior Olympic Fencing Championships like a veteran, rather than the rookie that she was.

"The first national event is intimidating. It can be stressful and a lot of people can get overwhelmed by the experience," said Terry Yoo, a chairman of the Maryland Division of the USA National Fencing Association, who refereed in Portland. "But she was calm and composed. She handled it very well."

LaRocca spent her first six years as a fencer with the Chesapeake Fencing Club in Baltimore City before joining the Timonium club in March last year.

"The club I'm in right now, I'd like to say, is a little more competitive," she said. "The environment really helps me out."

Ramirez couldn't agree more.

"When I first got her she came with a lot of problems and issues," he said of her technique. "To see the progress she's made in a year is amazing."

Ramirez attributes LaRocca's rapid progress to her smarts, work ethic and ability to pick things up quickly.

"When a lot of kids at her age get critiqued, it's very hard for them to adapt, but it's a knack for her to be able to adapt," Ramirez said. "When she has a set goal she works really hard to achieve it. She's always concentrating on the results. "

For all the intensity LaRocca brings to her favorite sport, her mother has to laugh when she recalls how it all started when all three of her daughters, Morgan, Francesca and Gabriella, became fascinated with the swashbuckling sword play in movies such as "Peter Pan" and "Captain Hook" and both the Harry Potter movies and books.

"They would act out the sword fight scenes with coat hangers," Elizabeth LaRocca said.

Morgan is the only one of the three sisters whose fascination grew into a consuming, competitive pastime.

As important as fencing is to Morgan, the oldest of the three sisters, she's equally intent on establishing a career as a speech pathologist. Vanderbilt, Marquette and Towson universities and University of Maryland, College Park top her list.

"I'd like to join a fencing club at school," she said. "Maybe I can play at a Division III college. Those are realistic options for a sport I really love."

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