Turns out playing “pirates” as a kid can be beneficial.
Kaito Streets, a 2012 graduate of Sequoia High School, loved to play with sword toys as a child. That fascination with blades was a precursor to Streets winning the NCAA gold medal in the saber competition at Penn State University in March.
Participating in 25 bouts over two days, Streets compiled a record of 22-3, at one point winning 14 straight in a row. He played a big part in the Nittany Lions winning their 13th NCAA team title and catapulted him to the NCAA saber championship.
His 20 wins in 23 bouts — including 14 in a row after losing his first — during the round-robin portion of the competition earned Streets the No. 1 seed going into the individual tournament, which was comprised of the top four fencers from the round robin.
“To be honest, I had no idea I would get 20 wins. I would have been happy with 15 or 16 wins,” Streets said. “Looking at the other three guys (in the individual semifinals), I still looked at myself as the underdog. I didn’t feel like I was the top guy in the bracket.”
In his semifinal match, Streets faced a former Penn State teammate, who transferred after last year. It was an opponent Streets had squared off against since he was 12 years old. And given the circumstances of his transfer, Streets knew he had no other option but to win.
“I just hate losing to him,” Streets said.
Streets came away with a 15-13 victory.
In the championship match, Streets had to rally from an early deficit and when he earned the final point for a 15-12 victory, he was a bit taken aback.
“I wish that last point was better scripted,” Streets said. “It was complete luck. When I got the point, I was in complete shock.
“If I didn’t have to fence, my legs would’ve collapsed. I didn’t want to get that far and not win it. No one is going to remember a second-place finish.”
Streets began fencing at the age of 8 and after giving up the sport after a short time, he found the right coach and kept with it.
“My stepmom wanted me to try something different than football, baseball or basketball,” Streets said. “When I was a little kid, I enjoyed playing with (toy) swords and she wanted me to do something with swords.”
The fact he enjoyed pretend sword fighting led Streets to his weapon of choice — the saber.
There are three fencing weapons: the saber, the foil and the epee. The biggest difference between the three is essentially the scoring spots on the body. In epee, you earn a point by cleanly poking your opponent anywhere on his or her body. In foil, scoring is done on the torso only, while in the saber, anything from the waist up is fair game.
There is also the added benefit of scoring with a slash, which appealed to Streets the most.
“You see a movie, (saber) is like sword fighting,” Streets said. “Saber is much faster paced. It’s the typical ‘Zorro’ thing. It was a weapon I could relate with.”
After fencing in local competitions for a few years, he won the under-10 national championship.
“After that, I knew I had a future in fencing,” Streets said.
His fencing did not keep him from playing other sports. He played Little League baseball and four years of baseball at Sequoia, along with a year of high school basketball. His fencing coach lived in Sacramento, so Streets would do a lot of his daily training with the Stanford fencing club.
Fencing, baseball and school made for long days for Streets during his high-school years.
“High school was like an all-day thing,” Streets said. “I would go to school, baseball practice wouldn’t end until 5:30 or 6, then I would go fence. I wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10 (at night). It was brutal a little bit.”
His prowess growing up led to nearly a full fencing scholarship from Penn State. Now, he concentrates on his college courses and fencing and Streets has seen his abilities grow.
“I improved the most in college because the training was more intense and I was more focused on it,” Streets said.
He also built a camaraderie with the Nittany Lions team, an aspect often missing at the lower level of the sport. A lot of times growing up, Streets was mostly fencing for himself and he missed the team aspect of sports — which is why he loved baseball so much.
When he got to Penn State, he discovered the team aspect of the sport and that was his main focus.
“College fencing is very much team oriented. There is so much more support,” Streets said. “My motivation going into the NCAAs, I didn’t care much about winning the individual title. I really wanted to win (a national championship) as a team.”
Going into this year’s championship, Penn State had not won a national title in three years. Streets said loss this year would have meant this year’s seniors would have only been the second class in school history to go without a team title.
“I was really focused on getting as many wins as I could. I wasn’t really counting my wins,” Streets said. “I had no game plan. I just went out there and fought for everything.”
With a NCAA national championship under his belt, the obvious question would be if Streets has any Olympic aspirations. While he admits it’s in the back of his mind, he’s more interested — right now — about the final two years of his college career.
“As of right now, I’m still focused on NCAA and winning as many (championships) as I can. Penn State has a lot of individual titles. For saber, there are a few guys who have won not only once, but multiple times. Winning once is great, but if I want to be one the greats at Penn State, I have to win two or three more times. It’s crazy how motivated they were and how hard they worked. Repeating or winning multiple times in almost unbelievable,” Streets said. “Just everything went right for me (at the NCAAs this year). I don’t know if I’ll duplicate those two days.”