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Briarcliff Math Student Heads to State Finals

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – No matter how Briarcliff Middle School student Sophie Underwood performs at this weekend’s state MATHCOUNTS final, her teacher, Karen Kelly said it’s only the start of her achievements.

“I’m waiting for Sophie to discover a new branch of mathematics,” Kelly said Thursday. “She’s very talented and smart but she’s always very humble and she works harder than anyone else.”

Underwood, 12, ranked first out of 150 middle school students in the 2012 Raytheon MATHCOUNTS regional competition in February. She is set to compete against the top regional students across the state Saturday at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy. The top four students in the state will qualify to compete in the national competition in Washington D.C. later this year. While her teachers think Underwood is a rare talent, the seventh-grader said she’s a little nervous about the competition.

“I’m really nervous because I know it’s going to be a lot harder,” Underwood said. “But I’m really excited because I want to do really well. I’m a little scared but I don’t want to let that affect me so I can keep trying as hard as I can.”

Teacher Aide Svetlana Ryzhik said Underwood’s doubt has helped her become such a strong competitor.

“She never shows how superior she is compared to other students,” Ryzhik said. “She never shows signs of arrogance and always takes her time on every problem. When the other students at the regional’s were done, they handed in their answers immediately. But Sophie took every second to double-check her answers. She cares so much.”

Underwood said a lot of people don't see how much practice she puts into math.

“My friends see me as good at math but they don’t realize all of the practice and work I do to get good at it,” Underwood said. “I think it helps that I have really good teachers like Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Ryzhik. They’re really nice and they always help me work through the problems.”

Kelly noted that Underwood’s older sisters also competed in the MATHCOUNTS competition.

“They were all really good students and excellent at math,” Kelly said. “I think that helps that she’s had that guidance but she also has a tremendous amount of talent.”

Ryzhik, who also worked with Underwood’s older sisters, said she “has a great chance” at winning the state competition.

“Her sisters were very good at math and one went to the state competition also,” Ryzhik said. “I am honored to have a student like Sophie. Her talent at math is incredible and her kind of talent does not come around very often.”

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