When you think of boys fencing on Long Island Ward Melville is the school that comes to mind first. The two-time defending Long Island champions have lost only two matches since 2006, including a 172-match winning streak that was snapped in the 2018 Long Island championship.
The Patriots contending for another title in 2021 will be one of the few familiar things during a season that will be very different.
At a time when teams would normally be preparing for the stretch run they are instead holding the first practices of the year.
"One of the things that we’re really going to need to work on is physical fitness," Ward Melville coach Ethan Wivietsky said. "Ward Melville has built its reputation on having kids that not only have good blade work but have the fitness to go with it. Larger programs like ours may have a bit of an advantage because we’ll have more subs to go in if anybody is tired."
Offseason preparation was unique as well as fencers and coaches waited to see if they would even be able to compete this winter.
"During lock down it was hard because we would practice once or twice a week online doing footwork," Ward Melville’s Will Lehr said. "I was working out in my room and I set up a little target to try to retain my ability."
Once the season gets going things will be different as well. Fencers will be required to wear masks under their head gear and the usual emotional responses after each point will be muted as yelling has been banned during matches.
"The mask is a big difference and being vocal and screaming when you score a touch is important mentally for a lot of us," Lehr said. "I competed a little bit this fall and it was hard to keep my level of intensity."
Ward Melville will look to the epee duo of Lehr and Ryan Schmidke, along with defending Suffolk sabre champion Kelly Liu, to be leaders as the Patriots hope to continue the winning tradition. Senior Dale Yu will also be a key as he steps into the top foil spot.
Garden City coach Kevin Oliver also mentioned the difficulties of preparing for the season but believes his team will be in contention to defend their county championship.
"Information was coming in everyday and it seemed like it was always changing," Oliver said. "It’s been tough trying to keep up with everyone and to try to explain things. We’ve had to revamp our whole practice system to accommodate the numbers."
The Trojans will be led by Sean Maas and Ryan Bradley at epee and Andrew Burns at foil.
Great Neck South will be one of the top challengers to Garden City this season. The Rebels will be strong throughout the lineup but their sabre team consisting of Wilmund Wu, Ryan Wong, and Juny Kim will be a particular strength. Samuel Lurvey (epee) and David Wang (foil) will help round out a talented and deep team.
Nassau epee champion Brian Li will hope to lead a dangerous Jericho team which finished third last year to the top of the standings.