By Clayton Collier
Ward Melville fencing, long-established as the powerhouse program of Long Island, is evidently a fast track to some of the nation’s best colleges as well.
Five members of the Patriots’ fencing programs will continue their playing careers at the collegiate level this fall.
Angela Zhang, Carly Weber-Levine, Michael Skolnick, Ilana Solomon and Michael Antipas will attend Cornell University, Stanford University, Vassar College, Columbia University and the University of Notre Dame, respectively, as members of their schools’ fencing programs.
Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon, who has brought the program to eight-straight undefeated seasons, County and Long Island Championships, said the five were the most he’s had recruited in an individual year since he started the program in 1999.
“Athletes come in waves and we happened to have a number of stars graduate this year,” he said. “But I am very proud of how the program has developed and extremely proud of the commitment we’ve seen from our athletes.”
Solomon, who will join the 2015 NCAA Champion Columbia fencing squad, said the winning culture of Ward Melville has prepared her for the challenge ahead, come this winter at Columbia.
“The fencing team provides a unique athletic experience, as it is an individual sport, but we need to win as a team,” said Solomon, a two-time All Long Island sabreuse. “This fosters great support from our peers on the fencing team who get to know how each athlete works under pressure, and the best way to help each individual person do the best she or he can in order to win as a team.”
Antipas, a two-time County Champion foiler, who sports a career 117-1 record, said Salmon, as well as his wife Jennie, who recently retired from coaching, have been instrumental in helping him reach this point.
“They’ve pushed me every step of the way, and made sure at practice I made myself better and gave me advice whenever I wanted it and needed it,” he said. “We have worked on technique together and strategies together and even mental toughness and sharpness.”
Saying goodbye to this bunch will be no easy task for Salmon or girl’s coach Alyssa Lombardi. In addition to Antipas and Solomon. Skolnick, Zhang and Weber-Levine also had plenty on their high-school résumés worth writing home about. Zhang, a foiler, sported a career 128-14 record — a program record — while picking up four First Team All-Long Island selections. Weber-Levine, a saber competitor, was 94-4 in her high school career, a two-time All-County selectee and a 2014 Division 1A National Champion. Skolnick, a foiler, described by Salmon as “clutch” and “strategic,” was All-County his senior year and sported a 27-25 record.
Moving forward without these five will be tough for Salmon, but he said there is still plenty of talent left to fill in the gaps.
“I have a few stars, but they’re younger — some of my best fencers aren’t even my seniors,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it a rebuilding year next year because we’re prepared, but we’re definitely young next year.”