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Ward Melville boys fencers lunge toward immortality

Ward Melville's Jack Rohan, left,  competes against Mark

Ward Melville's Jack Rohan, left,  competes against Mark Dammer of Walt Whitman during the boys fencing championship at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station on Feb 4, 2017. Credit: Daniel De Mato

The Connecticut women’s basketball team went looking for their 101st consecutive victory Saturday night, but on Long Island, an even longer winning streak continues to grow.

Ward Melville boys fencing won its 158th straight dual meet earlier this month, a streak dating to the start of the 2007-08 season. The Patriots have also won all 10 Long Island championships during this span and have produced 16 individual county champions since 2004.

So how have they done it? Sabre fencer Jack Rohan said being mindful of the team’s future, as well as the present, is the key.

“There’s a responsibility to teach future starters and prepare them for years to come,” he said. “Instead of just focusing on my fencing and how it impacts the team’s success, I have to impact future success, as well.”

“It’s all about preparing the next generation,” said coach Jeff Salmon, who founded the team as a club in 1995 before it became a varsity program in 1999. “We’ve been able to put together some good teams and it’s exciting to keep things going and prepare for the future.”

As the sport has grown on Long Island, the quality of competition has increased, leading to some close calls for Ward Melville, including this month’s Long Island Championship against Garden City, which came down to the final bout.

The Patriots have embraced the new challenges.

“The kids’ quality of fencing rises with the competition,” Salmon said. “I enjoy when teams get better because the quality of fencing goes up.”

“Every single opponent in this division is strong and they get stronger every year,” sabre fencer Michael Schwartz said. “It means we have to train and work hard every day, and take things one bout at a time.”

The boys team still has some catching up to do of its own before it can claim Long Island fencing’s longest winning streak, which is owned by the Ward Melville girls. They won 195 consecutive dual meets from 2000-15 before their streak was snapped by Commack in 2015. The Ward Melville girls won the first 13 Long Island championships, and won their 14th earlier this month to complete a 17-0 season. The team has also produced 23 individual county champions since 2002.

Miller Place badminton, which won 504 consecutive matches from 1973-2005, is the only team with a longer streak than the Ward Melville girls, according to Newsday records. The Patriots boys fencing team is 13 wins away from passing Bay Shore boys tennis (which was unbeaten from 1966-74) for the island’s third longest streak.

Though the pressureof the streak could be seen as a burden, Salmon said strong leadership from his fencers has prevented this from being an issue.

“The key is having ownership of their team,” he said. “We don’t sit there worrying about last year’s team. We ask ‘What’s going to be your legacy and how are you going to maintain it?’ They take responsibility for it.”

As for any complacency, Rohan said: “You would think that might be the case, but with our team chemistry, everyone has always been upbeat. Every meet, everyone is always there and ready to go.”

The fencers also said that a ton of work and time spent fencing, both in season and out of season, has been crucial, and that a sense of camaraderie makes putting in those hours easier.

“Everything you do with them is fun, but you’re working hard at the same time,” epeeist Marc Dalrymple said after the 2015 Long Island Championship, his final varsity match. “It’s the best thing you could ask for in a sport.’’

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