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SportsColumnistsGregg Sarra

Long Island is home of the long winning streak; how do they do it?

From left, senior Michael Skolnich, senior Marc Dalrymple

From left, senior Michael Skolnich, senior Marc Dalrymple and sophomore Michael Jaklitsch pose during Ward Melville boys fencing practice on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Photo Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

After 14 seasons without a loss, the Ward Melville girls fencing team was finally upended on Tuesday, falling 14-13 to Commack. The Patriots had won 195 consecutive matches, including 14 straight Suffolk titles.

But all good things come to an end, especially in sports, where staying on top for so long is no easy task. Even the Harlem Globetrotters, who once won 8,829 games in row, occasionally lose.

The Ward Melville community can take some solace, though, as the new owner of the longest win streak belongs to its boys fencing team, which has won 129 matches in a row. Behind them is the East Islip girls bowling team with 61 straight wins.

So what does it take to keep long win streaks alive? How does one school continue to reload and say atop the competition in any sport?

In a survey of 10 high school coaches from varying sports, here were the consistent keys to winning and all agreed on one factor -- you need a little luck.

"There's so many factors," said St. Anthony's football coach Rich Reichert, whose teams dominated the CHSFL from 2000-2013. "And talent and coaching is the key but there are going to be times when you need a little luck. You need the ball to bounce your way."

In high school sports it's even more difficult to run a streak over years of success. But to have decades of continuous success is almost unfathomable when one considers that school teams run in cycles.

There are always new faces, new attitudes, that can upset the winning chemistry. Coaches are constantly challenged with new personalities, players with different skill sets, and sports that evolve around new rules.

So many factors contribute to the extension or end of streaks. There's skill and there's luck in every game. Injuries or academic ineligibility can leave a lineup short. Players ultimately graduate and inexperienced, younger athletes fill in the roster. The strength of schedule plays a role in determining the potential of an undefeated season. Does your coach schedule soft non-conference games, or challenging opponents? Weather can change the outcome of a game.

Long Island's longest win streak, according to Newsday records, belongs to the Miller Place badminton team that won 504 straight matches before losing in 2005. The streak spanned 32 years from 1973-2005 and involved girls and boys as Miller Place used a co-ed lineup.

"No one ever expected Miller Place to lose," said Mark Dellecave, Connetquot's director of athletics. "It was shocking when they lost because it was a given that they always won. They never had a down cycle or an off year. It was an incredible run."

Before Ward Melville girls fencing surpassed them, the Bay Shore boys tennis team had the second longest streak: 173 from 1966-1974.

The St. Anthony's football team had one of the most impressive championship runs in Long Island history. The Friars won 29 games in a row, including a 14-0 win over Stepinac in the CHSFL Class AAA championship game in 2011. The Friars set a Long Island private school record of 29 consecutive wins earning their 10th title in 11 years. But the Friars' streak ended in the season opener in 2012 when they dropped a 59-21 decision to national powerhouse Bergen Catholic in a non-conference game -- a game scheduled by choice with no regard for streaks.

"We're never worried about winning streaks. We're concerned with getting our players ultimately ready for the playoff run at the end of the season," Reichert said. "It's a process. It's not how you start, it's how you finish."

Floyd holds the record for the most impressive run for a Long Island football team. The Colonials captured three straight Long Island Class I championships during a 42-game winning streak from 2005-2008.

"You definitely need some breaks along the way," Floyd football coach Paul Longo said. "Of course you have to be good, really good, and have a great feeder system to replenish the top players that graduate. And then you hope the new guys embrace the system to maintain the high standard to continue winning."

Shoreham-Wading River wrestler Jesse Jantzen set the bar in his sport, winning 163 straight bouts from 1996-2000. He became Long Island's only four-time Division I state champion and never lost a bout after the eighth grade.

And now 15 years later, Ward Melville wrestler Nick Piccininni, who is headed to Oklahoma State in the fall, is looking to etch his name above Jantzen's atop the wrestling world. Piccininni is in search of a fourth state title and is currently on a 153-match win streak.

"I never look past the opponent in front of me," Piccininni said. "Too many things can go wrong."

With Andy Slawson

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