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Senior fencers come together for all-star showcase
Long Island's top senior fencers donned their masks and armor, picked up their weapons, and fenced for the final times in their high school careers on Wednesday night.
The Suffolk boys defeated the Nassau boys, 23-4, and the Suffolk girls won, 19-8, at the Exceptional Seniors Meet at Half Hollow Hills East, but for the participants, the results were ancillary to the opportunity to bond with longtime rivals.
“It was a really great experience,” said Amanda Lewis, a foil fencer from Half Hollow Hills. “You really don’t get to talk to them much during the season. They’re all great girls. It was an honor to fence on a team with them.”
The event pitted the top 12 senior fencers from Suffolk against their counterparts from Nassau, with four fencers from each weapon being selected.
Commack epee fencer Sam Gallina said the event “was really incredible. We all kind of became best friends over the course of two nights of practice and then tonight. And now we’re talking about college, and prom and high school stuff.”
On the Nassau side, Cold Spring Harbor’s Rachel Weinstein echoed Lewis and Galina’s sentiments. “It’s awesome. It’s everything I could have ever wished for, because they’re such great girls. It’s great being able to fence together instead of against each other.”
“It was very nice closure,” added Oyster Bay epee Grey Warwick-Clarke said of the opportunity to compete on a unified team with old rivals. “We’ve always been kind of friendly with one another. When we came together and sat on the same bench, it was all very warm and open, and we were all cheering for one another and it was great.”
The boys felt the same way.
Brentwood foil fencer Julian Priceman said the event was “kind of awesome, seeing how their fencing techniques come together with ours.”
Commack sabre David Austin, who said he has “always been friends with a lot of sabres,” said “it was really fun” to come together with them on a team.
While some fencers said they were unsure of what it would be like to share a bench with long-time adversaries, they quickly warmed up to the experience.
“It was really weird at first,” said Whitman epee Sarah Goehring, “because being against them for so long, I expected it to not be as welcoming as it was. But everybody was just so nice, and they welcomed me as part of their family.”
Braulio Trejo, who was part of a Brentwood team that had a fierce rivalry with Ward Melville this season, said while Wednesday’s meet initially “felt kind of weird, in a way, it was nice having your rivals next to you. You know how good they are.”
Hills foil fencer Sam Gochman said joining together with rival fencers “was a little intimidating at first, but it was a great experience because I got to see how the other fencers in the league work. I got to learn from them.”
“They’ve been competitors,” Ward Melville sabre Manny Thomas of his teammates on Wednesday. “We hadn’t really talked much, but they’re pretty cool guys. I learned a lot.”
None of this is to suggest winning was not important.
Both the boys and girls Suffolk teams had won the previous three Senior Meets, and many of the fencers felt it was important to keep the winning going.
“We had this reputation to keep up,” said Brentwood epee Selom Gasu. “We had won three times in a row so we had to keep winning by as a big a margin as we could, because we had something to live up to.”
Stefany Henriquez also spoke of the importance of winning. “It was definitely important,” said the Brentwood sabre fencer. “There were three girls that represented Brentwood, so I felt like winning showed our school and Suffolk that we are a part of this” winning tradition.
Another common theme, in addition to camaraderie and competiveness, was a sense of finality for seniors fencing in one last high school event.
While some fencers will continue fencing in college, for others, like Ward Melville’s Melanie Holl, this marked the end of a career.
“It’s been a part of me for so long,” Holl said, “that it doesn’t feel like it’s over yet. After a while, once I haven’t fenced in a long time, it’s gonna hit me and I’m gonna get emotional about it.”
Almost all of the night’s competitors, whether they would be fencing at the next level or not, said they felt this way.
So while Wednesday’s meet was a clash of the island’s best fencers, for its participants, it meant so much more.