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Great Neck South's Mandy Li fences daily to stay razor sharp

Great Neck South's Mandy Li won girls foil

Great Neck South's Mandy Li won girls foil final at 2020 Nassau tourney against Oyster Bay's Anna Silver. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Following an offseason of interrupted training and lots of Zoom meetings, Mandy Li and her Great Neck South fencing teammates are ready for the season to begin.

Li, Newsday’s 2019 Fencer of the Year and the two-time Nassau champion in foil, has been working on her skills everyday between 90 minutes and two hours.

"It’s been difficult, but I’ve just been trying to put in the work to stay sharp," Li said. "I feel like when you’re fencing it’s really important to use your brain but sometimes if that’s not working well it’s important to have the muscle memory that comes from training."

Great Neck South coach Catie Sagevick says there is rarely a time when Li, a junior, isn’t on top of her game and able to outthink her opponent.

"She can look at an opponent and instinctively knows what to do," Sagevick said. "She has a plan and knows what she needs to do to execute it and it’s pretty incredible. You expect that to be something to develop as she matures but seeing it so young is exceptional."

With practice time for the team split into two sessions based on in-school and remote learning, Li has taken it upon herself to try and help teach the younger members of the team when she can.

"I see a little bit of myself in them," she said. "I had a little bit of experience when I first joined the team so I want to help them improve and help the team."

Great Neck South will also field a strong sabre contingent, led by Connie Too, who finished second in Nassau last year, and Gina Lee.

"We want to maintain our status as the top team in the county but our top priority is the safety," Sagevick said. "This year is going to look a little different and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to continue to improve and be together."

The two other 2020 county champions in Nassau return as well to lead their respective teams. Jovana Lau (sabre) will look to help Herricks continue to improve in its second season as a varsity program, and Oyster Bay’s Rachel Kowalsky will try to win her third straight epee title. Anna Silver will look to join Kowalsky at the top of the medal stand after finishing second last season in foil.

Jericho will once again be in the championship race, led by Gloria Cheng. The Jayhawks finished tied for second last season with Great Neck North, another title contender with Vicki Varkonyi (foil) and Sydney Sarker (sabre) at the top of the lineup.

Ward Melville will once again be the team to beat in Suffolk, with returning county champions sisters Claire (foil) and Olivia (epee) Becchina.

Commack, led by Melina Nicou and Anna Rohring at foil, will be another contender. Half Hollow Hills' Olivia Jin is another to watch in sabre.

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