They are more than just friendly rivals who fence on the same club team, share an offseason coach and attend competing high schools. Chris Sullivan of Ward Melville and Ryan Murphy of Commack are, in fact, perfect foils. One is point, the other is counterpoint.
"We fence each other all the time. We both know exactly how the other fences," Sullivan said after defeating Murphy, 5-3, in foil Thursday as Ward Melville's boys team won its 50th consecutive match - beating visiting Commack, 18-9 - and clinched the Suffolk championship for a fourth straight season.
In the girls' match at the same site, Ward Melville extended its winning streak to 126 matches and clinched its ninth straight county title with a 22-5 victory over Commack.
"It was close the last time , so we told ourselves that we needed to win every single bout," said Sullivan, one of the Patriots' senior captains. "I had to get the team pumped up. But for me, it's my last year and I want to experience one more Long Island championship before I go."
When Sullivan and Ryan squared off, Ward Melville already had clinched the match. That did not reduce the intensity level of their bout. Sullivan was on fire early and grabbed a 4-1 lead, but Ryan scored two quick points to ratchet up the tension. Every point was punctuated by a primal scream from both combatants, the loudest coming when Sullivan scored his bout-winning point.
"It was a close match but he had the right adjustment at the end," Murphy said. "But maybe I'll get him in the counties. That's how it goes between us. He usually has the upper hand in high school, but I beat him in outside tournaments."
Of the bloodcurdling screams that sound something like Hollywood actors reacting to an on-screen sword to the chest, Murphy said, "The screams are a release. It's not us showing off."
Sullivan - who went 3-0 in foil Thursday to Murphy's 2-1 - agreed. "Fencing is such a mental sport, you almost have to psych yourself up," he said. "When you put that light on , it comes out as a celebration."
When they aren't dueling in high school competition, Murphy and Ryan train at Mission Fencing Club in Rocky Point and are coached by Jennie Salmon, the girls coach and assistant boys coach at Ward Melville. They were teammates on the national team that competed in Dallas last summer. "I was rooting for Ryan and he was there for me," Sullivan said. "When we're not in this high school bubble, we support each other."
That wasn't the case Thursday. "It's competitive between the schools. It's competitive between us," Murphy said. "When we're on the strip, we're not friendly."