The four Stone kids always were a competitive bunch, especially the three youngest siblings who were separated by three school grades while being home-schooled together.
"They worked very hard to keep up with each other — and beat each other," said their mother, Cynthia. "Eliza in particular — she always wanted to win, no matter what they were doing together."
In March, as they triumphed together, it was Eliza who became the big winner in the Chicago family.
At the NCAA fencing championships in San Antonio, Gracie (freshman), Robert (junior) and Eliza (senior) Stone combined to help Princeton win its first team title, decided by results for both sexes in all three weapons.
Eliza also took first in women's saber, rallying from a 9-4 deficit in the final for a 15-10 triumph over Anna Limbach of St. John's, who had eliminated Gracie in the semifinals. Eliza is just the second Princeton woman to win an individual title.
Those victories came in the middle of a whirlwind three months, during which Eliza will have:
•Competed in England, France, Belgium and Turkey in a successful effort to establish both her international and national team credentials.
•Finished her political philosophy senior thesis on the role of the statesman and the criteria to use absolute power correctly, using examples from Plato to Churchill.
•Returned home to fence in the Korfanty Saber World Cup from Friday through Sunday at Illinois-Chicago, along with sister Gracie, where the women's entries include the reigning Olympic gold and bronze medalists as well as 2004 and'08 Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis, the top-ranked U.S. woman.
Since returning to USA Fencing events last fall, Eliza Stone, 22, quickly has proved she belongs in that elite company.
"Thank goodness," she said. "I wasn't sure I could get near the top."
After two seasons of skipping national and international competition to concentrate on college fencing and studies, she won the U.S. Championships in April, is ranked fourth in the United States and is all but assured of a place on the U.S. team for the August world championships.
Ironically, because of all the time away from college events, Eliza lacked the points to qualify for the NCAA meet. Teammate Diamond Wheeler gave up her NCAA spot for Eliza because Wheeler wanted the sisters to have their one chance to compete together in the meet and thought it would be better for the team.
"People underestimate (Eliza) because she hasn't been around the international circuit for a long time," Zagunis said in an email. "But that has worked to her advantage because she has a no-fear attitude on the strip and is able to be unfazed by what's going on around her or who she comes up against."
Stone and Zagunis have met once, with Zagunis winning 15-10 at the February World Cup in Belgium.
"I think she has massive potential," Zagunis said.
Stone is determined to find out how much. She plans to postpone medical studies to focus on trying to make the 2016 Olympic team, perhaps moving to Portland, Ore, to train with Zagunis' coach, Ed Korfanty.
Fencing entered the Stone family's lives serendipitously. Their father, Thomas, an attorney, was in a Hyde Park pizza parlor 13 years ago when he saw a flier for a fencing club and decided it might be a good sport for his children, even though he and wife Cynthia, a business executive, never had fenced.
Eliza and Gracie, doing ballet at the time, had so little idea of what they were getting into that they came to their first practice in dresses.
"We stopped ballet pretty quickly," Eliza said. "Fencing took us over completely."
Each started on a different weapon, with Robert in saber. That they all wound up in saber owed to both skill set and finances, as it proved cheaper to have them all use the same type of sword.
That, of course, threatened to exacerbate their sibling rivalries.
"We decided we weren't going to get too hung up if we won or lost against each other," Eliza said.
Their older sister, Katie, was involved in the home schooling competition but escaped the swordplay. She did not fence and went to the University of Chicago, where she now works in the psychology department.
Eliza expects Gracie, who also is competing in the Chicago World Cup, to follow a path similar to hers, studying political philosophy, concentrating on college through her 2016 graduation and then thinking about a shot at the 2020 Olympics. Robert, also studying political philosophy, is likely to go straight toward a doctorate and a career in academe.
"Robert likes fencing but doesn't live for it," Cynthia Stone said. "Gracie loves it, and Eliza lives for it right now."
So Eliza has turned down a medical school "catch-up" program at Columbia University this year because of possible conflicts with fencing.
"After my junior year, I decided I wanted to continue fencing beyond college," Eliza said. "I realized I couldn't live with myself if I stopped."
Korfanty World Cup
Where: Illinois-Chicago, Flames Athletic Center, 839 W. Roosevelt Road
When: Friday, 9 a.m, women's qualification, 1 p.m., men's qualification; Saturday, 9 a.m., women's elimination rounds; 1:40 p.m., men's elimination rounds; 6:30, women's and men's semifinals and finals; Sunday, 8:20 a.m., women's team preliminaries; noon, men's team preliminaries; 6 p.m., women's and men's team bronze- and gold-medal matches.
Who: Women — 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kim Ji-Yeon of South Korea and bronze medalist Olga Kharlan of Ukraine; 2004 and '08 Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis of Portland, Ore.; reigning NCAA champion Eliza Stone of Chicago. Men — All three 2012 Olympic medalists: Aron Szilagyi of Hungary, Diego Occhiuzzi of Italy, Nikolay Kovalev of Russia; Daryl Homer of New York City, sixth in the London Games.