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Ward Melville boys fencers regain Long Island title

Mike DeSando's win clinches the Patriots' 14th title in 17 years. Ben Rogak, Will Lehr and Albert Tian also excel for coach Jeff Salmon's dynasty.

Ward Melville's Will Lehr, right, scores a point

Ward Melville's Will Lehr, right, scores a point in his epee match against Great Neck South's Kevin Feng on Wednesday at Whitman. Photo Credit: George A. Faella

Ward Melville's boys fencing team entered this season with a weird feeling. It was only the third time in 16 years that the Patriots weren’t the reigning Long Island champions.

That feeling was wiped clean Wednesday as Ward Melville defeated Great Neck South, 14-1, in the Long Island championship at Whitman for the Patriots’ 14th title in the 17-year history of the event.

“Last year was certainly a wake-up call,” said epeeist Ben Rogak, a three-time individual county champ. “It reminded us that we still have to work hard, keep our focus and stay motivated. And this year we were rewarded with a successful season.”

From the opening bout, it was clear the depth of Ward Melville, with all nine of its fencers named county finalists, would be problematic for Great Neck South. Ward Melville took the first seven bouts and led 8-1 after the first round. Mike DeSando beat Kevin Zhang, 5-1, in foil for the deciding 14th point in what became the match’s final bout.

It’s no surprise that a team with Ward Melville’s legacy would return this year eager to regain the top spot.

“Our whole team came back more confident because of last year’s loss and we wanted to jump back and get our championship back,” said Will Lehr, who went 1-0 in epee. “When we’re confident that everyone else is going to do very well, it relieves the pressure.”

While the confidence is born from hard work and training, Ward Melville relies most on its fencers’ devotion to the program. Each senior serves as a team captain, and they are responsible for the team’s future success.

“The captains know they have a responsibility to create next year’s champions,” coach Jeff Salmon said. “So they don’t just take care of themselves, they are constantly working with the next generation.

“They know what it takes, and they are looking to recreate that each year.”

As Albert Tian, who went 2-0 in sabre, said: “It’s everything we do leading up to the season that results in a championship season.”

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