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High school fencing notes

Girls final closer

than meets the eye

Despite Garden City's late charge, the Ward Melville girls pulled off their ninth straight Long Island championship. The final score was 14-6, but look a little deeper and you'll find it was a lot closer.

Ward Melville won two matches by 5-4 scores and two matches 5-3, with Garden City making the Patriots work to keep their unbeaten streak. If just two of those go the other way, you're looking at a fragile 12-8 lead and the match coming down to epee, which wasn't having its best day for Ward Melville.

"Epee obviously struggled today," Ward Melville coach Jennie Salmon said Tuesday night. "Their team was determined and we weren't as sharp as we need to be. All the scores were close and it definitely got pushed there."

WM boys play Checkers

While the girls team played to keep its unbeaten streak alive, the Ward Melville boys were fencing for Checkers.

Chris Sullivan, a team captain who finished second in foil at the individual tournament, is the ringleader, constantly prodding an unbending coach Jeff Salmon to stop the team bus at the fast-food franchise after a win. Even after the 14-1 win over Great Neck South on Tuesday, Sullivan, who went 2-0, pleaded for the elusive meal.

"Sure," Salmon said sarcastically. "Count on it."

Put him in, coach

Where would Michael Jordan have been had he given up after not making the varsity basketball team? Where would Centereach be if Chris Rivera took no for an answer - every time the question was repeated?

During the celebration, as Rivera was piled on by teammates after his last bout in the Suffolk Individual Tournament last Saturday, some saw fit to ride the coach a little. And all Anthony Mattera could do was smile bashfully and shrug to the "Told you so, coach!" taunts.

That's because Rivera, a sophomore the coach had been reluctant to promote from junior varsity, had led his team to fourth place in the Suffolk tournament and won in boys epee in the individual tournament. "I'd always be begging him, begging him to put me on," said Rivera, who learned that it pays to persevere . . . and to nag the coach.

Rivera went 21-2 down the stretch and defeated Whitman's Chris Tufo for the title.

"I didn't recognize it at first," Mattera said. "He begged me during the first half to put him on varsity and it took me a while to realize how good he could be. But he's a hard worker and he was really persistent, so I finally gave him a shot . . . Hey, coaches make mistakes, too."

Mr. 300

During the Suffolk awards presentation last Saturday, Jeff Wolfe was honored for reaching 300 wins.

Wolfe, a U.S. Fencing Hall of Famer, started the Brentwood program in 1968 and coached the girls varsity team from 1971-98 and compiled a Long Island-record 298 wins to 15 losses. That included a 98-meet win streak from '90-98, which was eventually surpassed by the Ward Melville girls in '08.

"I was officiating in '99 and Jeff [Salmon] said if I was interested in coaching again, there was a spot for me at Ward Melville," Wolfe said. "I turned him down . . . I retired from officiating a couple years later, then I ran into him somewhere and he asked if I changed my mind. I did."

In 2001, the Patriots hired Wolfe as an assistant coach. Last month, Jennie Salmon coached the club team at a tournament in San Jose, which meant missing two meets. And Wolfe filled in, picking up the two wins for his 300th.

"It's humbling," he said. "It tells me I've been around for a long time. The last two, I'm really grateful for. At the second one, I told the girls, 'Don't blow it for me.' "

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