At first glance, it would appear that Niki McKee was sparring against a mirror on the strip.
The competitors wore the same uniform, had the same hair, measured the same height, came from the same team and even had the same name stitched across the back of each uniform. Sophomore Niki defeated her sister, senior Erica McKee, 15-8 in the foil final of the Nassau Individual Fencing Championships Saturday.
The two Valley Stream Central fencers, familial foil rivals since childhood, attacked each other's weak spots, going head to head Saturday in the underground converted bowling alley at Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point.
"I have a move that she simply cannot get around," Niki said. "It's my counterattack, a closeout that forces her to step back."
Although Erica led 4-0 at the beginning of the bout, it was this move that turned the tide.
"The biggest rule in fencing is not to break discipline, Erica said. "If something is working, you can't change what you're doing. Unfortunately, I decided to try something new."
Niki went 20-0 in the regular season, missing several bouts for World Cup meets in Germany and France. Erica's regular-season record was 24-1.
"Although we joke about wanting to beat each other, I want to help her so that she can react if she meets another competitor like me," Niki said. Erica may get that chance in September, since the NCAA fencing championship team at Penn State has offered her a place on its squad.
Matt Joe of Manhasset (25-0), a favorite in boys sabre, quickly swept his initial pool and entered the elimination rounds with poise. Joe defeated Eugene Park of Great Neck South, 15-7, in the final.
"His success derives from his deep personal confidence. He is very practiced," Manhasset coach Jeremy Goun said.
Joe struck a decisive blow with his signature move, the skyhook. The blade dove down onto his opponent's hand in this all-or-nothing tactic.
"The key to fencing is being able to formulate a plan and carry it out touch by touch," Joe said.
Other individual champions included: Julia Klepner from Great Neck South, a D10-rated fencer, defeated Kaitlin Sullivan of Garden City, 15-8, in sabre. Srey Beaulac of Garden City beat Courtney Collins of Oyster Bay in epee, 15-9.
In boys epee, Nathan Bailey from North Shore defeated Stephen Ngo of Great Neck South, 15-4; and in foil, Alexander Szilagyi from Cold Spring Harbor beat Charles Yu of Wheatley, 15-3.
"Fencing is like a board game," Joe said. "You have to go in without a plan and once you understand the strategy, you can win."