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Playoff preview: Top fencers, teams on Long Island

Erica Chen leads a strong sabre team for

Erica Chen leads a strong sabre team for Half Hollow Hills. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

We are approaching the end of the boys and girls fencing season, so let's take a look at the top teams and fencers around Long Island.

BOYS FENCING

Commack is the team to beat in Suffolk after handing Ward Melville just its second loss since 2006 (and first since the 2018 Long Island championship to Jericho) on Jan. 14. Bart Wisniewski won the deciding bout in epee to put Commack ahead 14-12, and Charlson Kim won all three of his bouts in sabre. Kim, the 2018 county champion, is 19-0 on the season and makes up one third of the county’s top sabre squad along with Eric Huang (19-2) and Jonny Angel (16-3). Sophomore Jason Duffe (14-3) leads the Cougars’ foil squad and Charlie Pak (20-1) and Wisniewski (17-3) are a tough out in epee.

But don’t sleep on the Patriots. The defending Long Island champs are more than capable of flipping the script come playoff time. Defending county champion Leo Takemaru heads the sabre team along with Kelly Liu, and Chris Ancona (foil) and Will Lehr (epee) provide plenty of skill and experience for a playoff run.

It’s Great Neck South’s’ title to lose in Nassau after the Rebels wrapped up their second straight undefeated regular season with a 24-3 win over Wheatley on Jan. 15. Seniors Steven Grams (epee) and Gabe Magidson (foil) each took gold at the Jeff Wolfe Holiday Tournament in December and finished 18-0 in dual-meets. Freshmen sabrists Ryan Wong and Wilmund Wu combined to win 89 percent of their matches and the epee team went 38-5.

The Rebels will likely have to beat Garden City or Jericho for a second time this season to become county champions. GNS beat Garden City (18-9) and Jericho (15-12) earlier this year. Johns Hopkins-bound foilist Zach Ortiz finished the regular season 19-2 for the Trojans.

GIRLS FENCING

Suffolk is a three-team race between Commack, Half Hollow Hills and Ward Melville.

The Becchina twins are the main draw for Ward Melville. Claire is the defending county champion in foil, and Olivia is one of the top epeeists in the county along with Commack’s Valerie Slackman. And the two have some history: 

After Olivia lost to Slackman in the final of the Jeff Wolfe Holiday tournament at Brentwood last month, Becchina ousted Slackman, 5-4, in the deciding bout of a Jan. 14 dual-meet to deliver Commack its only loss of the season. The stakes are guaranteed to be high when the two teams meet in the playoffs on Feb. 5. 

Slackman, the defending county champion, is 28-2 in dual meets, and her gold medal at Brentwood last month was her second straight. Fellow epeeist Nicole Nicou is 20-0, and the Cougars’ foil team, comprised of sophomore Melina Nicou (19-1), freshman Angela Won (16-7) and eighth-grader Anna Rohring (19-4), is among the best, and youngest, in the county. 

Half Hollow Hills likely has the strongest sabre squad on Long Island. Erica Chen, the defending county champion, and teammate Olivia Jin are undefeated in dual meets this season. Jin did lose once, though -- to Chen in the final of the Brentwood tournament, where Chen took home the gold medal for the third straight year. With Jenna Jacinto (foil) and Naomi Chon (epee) leading their respective squads, Hills is certainly a contender in Suffolk.  

In Nassau, Great Neck South sophomore standout Mandy Li looks to lead the top-seeded Rebels to their second straight county title. Li, the defending county champion in foil, picked up her second gold medal at Brentwood last month before finishing undefeated in dual meets for the regular season. Gina Lee, Connie Too and Ella Nguyen combined to win 87 percent of their sabre matches for GNS, which enter the playoffs with an 8-1 record.  

The Rebels might be the favorite in Nassau, but Great Neck North, Oyster Bay and Jericho have the talent to compete. Oyster Bay junior Rachel Kowalsky won the county title in epee last year, and Anna Silver and Meghan Cox lead a strong foil squad. Add Karina Paone, who finished fifth at Brentwood in sabre, and the Baymen have a legitimate shot to win their first county title since 2006.

Great Neck North and Jericho enter the playoffs with only two losses apiece. GNN sabrist Sydney Sarker had a promising showing at Brentwood (6th place), and after Jericho’s run to the county title in 2018, it would be unwise to ever count the Jayhawks out of the hunt.

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