Dianna Nielsen of Ward Melville reacts after a saber victory...

Dianna Nielsen of Ward Melville reacts after a saber victory in the girls fencing Long Island Championship against Great Neck South at Garden City High School on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Credit: James Escher

Claire Becchina is no stranger to the big moment. The Ward Melville sophomore is just a few days removed from her second straight county foil title and on Tuesday she was tasked with another challenge.

With her team clinging to a one-point lead in the Long Island championship at Manhasset, she stepped onto the strip to face fellow sophomore standout Mandy Li, the Great Neck South sophomore foilist who was coming off her second straight individual title and hadn’t lost a bout in two seasons.

Becchina won, 5-4, to give Ward Melville a two-point lead and set the stage for teammate and senior captain Allison Leute, who clinched a 14-12 victory. Leute came through with a 3-2 win over Reena Wong in epee to give Ward Melville its 17th Long Island title in 18 years.

“Going in, I just told myself to do my best, I honestly wasn’t expecting to beat her,” Becchina said. “It feels pretty good, especially since she beat me, 15-8, in the finals at Brentwood [earlier in the season].”

Li beat Shaina Wertheim to make it 8-6 in the second round, and after Becchina took the next bout, Joy Yang won again to make it 9-7. South’s Diana Chu beat Tabitha Fortner to get within one.

But senior captain Dianna Nielsen never lost faith. “We all deal with the pressure really great,” Nielsen said. “We know how much work we put in this season and that we would do whatever we had to do to win.”

The Patriots blend exceptional young talent, such as Becchina, her twin sister, Olivia, and sophomore sabrist Alexa Horan, with solid senior leadership.

“We have some very strong athletes,” Patriots coach Ethan Wivietsky said. “But we also have girls that can get the job done when we need them . . . They might not win 3 of 3 bouts] but they get the points we need.”

There’s a reason Ward Melville has been so dominant.

“The legacy has definitely pushed us all to work harder, we all go to Mission [Fencing], and we train there outside of practice,” Nielsen said. “It is definitely what has helped us become such an amazing team, all of us putting so much work in and outside of practice.”

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