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Mandy Li leads Great Neck South to third straight Nassau title

Mandy Li, right, of Great Neck South competes

Mandy Li, right, of Great Neck South competes in foil against Oyster Bay's Meghan Cox at the Nassau team fencing championships in East Norwich on Friday. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Everyone knows the old sports adage that hockey players play hurt, but what about high school girls fencers?

For Great Neck South’s Mandy Li, the answer is an emphatic yes.

The Rebels junior took a shot to her right arm in her opening foil bout but gutted out two key wins as Great Neck South won its third straight Nassau girls team championship with a 14-6 victory against Oyster Bay at James H. Vernon School, Friday night.

"It was the first point when I got hurt," said Li with a chuckle. "It stung, but I got some ice. I was definitely still going to fence."

Great Neck South (12-0) took a 7-2 lead after the opening round (nine bouts). But Oyster Bay won three of the next five bouts and pulled within 9-5.

Much like a relief pitcher in baseball, Li stepped upon the strip with a steely determination as momentum seemed as if it might shift Oyster Bay’s way.

"I was thinking about what I had to do," she said.

In her case, that’s win. The Level-B rated national fencer capped off her high school season with a 24-0 record. Late in the match, she took the ice bag off, but was still rubbing her arm.

Aurora Aschettino (foil) and Rachel Kowalsky (epee) went 2-0 for Oyster Bay (10-2).

Ella Nguyen and Gina Lee (sabre) both went 3-0 for South, and Li and Angelina Fazzini (epee) were 2-0.

Kira Nguyen won a key match in her second bout of the evening, 5-4, at first epee to give her team a 12-6 lead after two rounds. The Rebels knew they were just minutes away from an unprecedented third straight Nassau crown.

"It was an unexpected goal," Great Neck South coach Catie Sagevick said. "No [Nassau] team [in the last 20 years] has ever accomplished this."

The Rebels will graduate a handful of key seniors, including starters Lee, Connie Too, Josephine Chan and Diana Chu. Still, the Rebels feel like they are raising the bar for their own program, as well as Nassau fencing history.

"To be the first team to do it," Sagevick added, "we’re leaving a legacy."

Of championships and competing through pain.

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