The Newfield boys fencing team had their hands full in their season opener at home where the Wolverines fell to visiting Sayville 17-10 on Jan. 16. Unlike past seasons, the gym was eerily quiet in the age of COVID-19 as no spectators were permitted. Newfield was back out on their home strip two days later where they out-paced Commack 18-9 to even their early season.
Centereach and Newfield high schools’ fencing teams competed in the Suffolk County championships Feb. 9.
It was Newfield foilist Jake Hempe who stole the show winning his third straight Suffolk County title at Newfield High School where his team finished second overall falling to Ward Melville in the final round.
Ward Melville squared off against the Newfield Wolverines out on the strip Dec. 8 in a three-way bout with Brentwood. The Patriots had their hands full with a surging Newfield squad but edged the Wolverines 16-11 to remain unbeaten 3-0 in Suffolk League II.
The Patriots are back out on the strip Dec. 13 where they’ll host Centereach starting at 5 p.m. at Ward Melville High School. The Patriots and Wolverines will also compete in a holiday tournament invitational Dec. 15 at Brentwood High School. First bout scheduled for 9 a.m.
The stakes were high for the Patriots Monday night.
The last time Ward Melville’s girls fencing team faced off against Newfield it won by a single point, which was too close for comfort for head coach Kyle Hempe. With an undefeated streak on the line, the Patriots showed they learned from their mistakes, making a statement with an 18-9 home win Jan. 22.
“They were really fired up at home,” Hempe said. “We know Newfield is the second best team in our league, and they were really coming for it. So we went out, we worked as hard as we could, won a little earlier than we thought we would and we’re happy about that.”
Early wins came in the form of all three weapons. Ward Melville (10-0, 6-0 League II) took the second two of three in each of the first rounds of sabre, foil and épée.
Ward Melville’s Lauren Cappello started things off for the Patriots, putting the first point in the win column. The junior swept her sabre matches, 5-1, 5-2 and 5-2. Fellow sabre specialist Bridget Becchina, a senior, did the same while outscoring her challengers 15-4.
”We knew what we were coming into — I don’t think any of us were too worried — we knew we would have to bring it in each bout,” Becchina said. “I had confidence in the team, we had confidence in ourselves, and knew they have to beat us. We go out there and we just fence, and that usually works.”
Newfield (9-3, 5-2) was toughest in foil. Senior Ally Hu, who finished the day 2-1, took home victories in her second (5-1) and third (5-0) appearances out on the strip.
“[She’s] their strongest fencer, so was very happy with Ivanna Zavala-Arbeleaz, to see her come out with a victory there,” Hempe said. “But Bridget and Lauren are always solid for us in sabre so I’m happy for them and their performances, too.”
Junior épéeist Catherine Cao and senior Julia Duffy also swept their Newfield challengers.
“I’m proud that we came out with the win,” Duffy said. “Newfield gave us a run for our money, but we lean on all of the hard work that we put in, and reap the rewards.”
Junior sabreist Olivia Calise, who had dropped her first two bouts, blanked her opponent, 5-0, in the meet-clinching matchup.
With three meets left before the postseason Hempe said he’s confident going down the stretch, especially since the Patriots won’t be matching up with the Wolverines over that span.
“We’re not as worried, but we’ll go full force,” he said. “We’re happy to be in the position that we’re in.”
Ward Melville is back in action facing Centereach (5-7, 2-5) today, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. Newfield will host Sayville today at 6 p.m.
Seniors Angela LoMastro and Ally Hu swept all three of their bouts to lead Newfield’s girls fencing team to a 17-10 nonleague win over crosstown rival Centereach Jan. 11.
LoMastro, a sabreist, blanked her first opponent in a 5-0 bout.
“I had a lot of energy,” she said. “The last time we played Centereach I let them get a lot of touches on me, but I was able to shut that down today, so I was proud of that. It’s an important match — no one wants to get beat by Centereach.”
Centereach first-year head coach Kerin Boghosian said despite the loss she’s pleased with her team’s progress.
“I think some of the girls are a little disappointed with today’s loss because we performed better the first time we faced them, but it’s a great measuring stick because they have some great fencers on that squad,” Boghosian said. “I’m leaning on the girls to show me what they’re capable of.”
She said she’s been leaning primarily on foilists Jessica DeSena and Kayley Otero, who finished 2-1.
“Our foils have performed well for us — it’s a weapon we kind of depend on,” Boghosian said. “Some of our epeé fencers did a nice job today, too. Ayanna Hodge went 3-0, so she’s a bright spot. She learns from Abby Cornelia.”
Hodge won her bouts 5-4, 5-3 and 5-0.
LoMastro and Hu, also a foilist, swept their opponents 5-0, 5-2 and 5-3. Hu said she was happy with her shutout because she isn’t at full strength.
“To win against Centereach is so important — it brings up the school morale for more than just one sport,” she said. “I have fenced better than I did. I lacked in energy today.”
Centereach traveled to Lindenhurst Jan. 13 and outscored its nonleague opponent 18-9. The Cougars (3-4 overall, 1-4 in League I) travel to Half Hollow Hills East Jan. 16 for a 5:15 p.m. matchup. Newfield (7-2 overall, 4-1 in League II) hosts Brentwood Jan. 18 at 5 p.m.
“We are a tenacious athletic group — our kids don’t stop fighting,” Newfield head coach Jessica Palmaccio said, before speaking specifically about captains LoMastro and Hu. “They really carried us today. I’m really proud of both of them.”
This version corrects the results of Centereach’s win over Lindenhurst.
After devastation struck Puerto Rico in the form of Hurricane Maria in September, members of Puerto Rico’s national fencing team reached out to anyone willing to lend a hand.
Hearing of Team Puerto Rico’s plight, Rocky Point’s Mission Fencing Center owners Jeff and Jennie Salmon quickly opened their doors so the team could train for an upcoming international competition, and many of the fencers were more than thankful.
“As my family and a lot of my friends said it was like a blessing for this family to reach out to us and give us the opportunity [to train],” said 17-year-old épéeist Freddie Rivera, who calls Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico home. “Ever since I got the news that we had this opportunity, I wanted to meet them. They gave us their house too, and to take us to this place [Mission Fencing] — that takes a lot of effort.”
Salmon, a Comsewogue High School graduate and varsity boys fencing coach for Ward Melville, said housing and feeding the fencers, as well as providing transportation to his 30,000-square-foot subterranean training facility on Route 25A, which he said is the largest in the country,
wasn’t as difficult as it might sound.
Mission Fencing Center owns a bus that already transports athletes from across Long Island to and from the center, and the Salmons have plenty of space in their old mission church home in Mount Sinai, from where the center got its name. He said this, along with local contributions, made accommodations for the four-week stay accommodations simple. Karina Del Mar Pagan, a 19-year-old from Carolina, Puerto Rico, said each member of her eight-person group paid for his or her plane ticket, and the Salmons took care of the rest.
“Fifteen years ago Jennie and I bought our home and ran a fencing clinic out of the extra space,” Salmon said. “We didn’t have the finances to support [Team Puerto Rico], but we live in an old church, which we still run camps out of in the summer, so we have a bunch of beds and have plenty of room. We have some pretty nice housing for them.”
The fencing community demonstrated its generosity by holding food drives and 50/50 raffles since the guests landed Dec. 11, as well as by donating hats, gloves and other cold-weather items to help the Caribbean team adjust to the temperature. The group also received home items like paper towels and laundry detergent.
“It was like a blessing for this family to reach out to us and give us the opportunity [to train].”
“Today we went to the laundromat and the minute one of the girls stepped outside she said, ‘Oh my God, here we go again,’” Jeff Salmon said, laughing. “The team doesn’t like the cold, but they all have coats and gloves because everyone really stepped [up]. Everyone is so excited that they’re here and the whole Long Island fencing community has been great.”
His wife heard of Team Puerto Rico’s predicament through Iris Zimmermann, who co-owns the Rochester Fencing Club, and said she immediately knew she wanted to get involved in any way she could.
“I guess I just took the bull by the horns,” Jennie Salmon said. “And now USA Fencing federation is even involved in helping them.”
Carlos Quiles, a 24-year-old Carolina, Puerto Rico, resident chaperoning his group of eight fencers, said he was connected with the Salmons after pleading to his fencing federation president that they needed a place to train after seeing his club’s flooded headquarters.
“When we saw that our club was completely destroyed, the head of our fencing federation went to a meeting to make a plan as to what we were going to do,” Quiles said, adding that the organization reached out to anyone in the United States and beyond. “That’s when Mission Fencing found us and [Jeff Salmon] told us he wanted us to come here. We couldn’t be more grateful.”
Team Puerto Rico took to the strips of Mission Fencing Center Dec. 15, where its members showed off their international flare while competing against local Long Island fencers like Ward Melville épéeist Ben Rogak.
Rivera said he was excited to challenge himself and partake in a unique experience, one that provided a first for the young athlete.
“I’m so thankful for this opportunity,” he said while fencing inside the center as snow began to fall. “This is my third trip to the United States — [having previously visited] Mexico and Costa Rica — and this time, I’m a proud member of the junior national team. This is also the first time I’ve ever seen snow.”
Rogak said he also enjoyed competing against fencers he’s never seen before, and said that he admired their dedication. Jennie Salmon agreed.
“They’ve been awesome guests,” she said. “We’ve had press based on our success as high school coaches, and at some level we’re very proud of that, but that isn’t even close to our biggest success. What we’re doing here is so meaningful.”
Before returning home, the Mission Fencing Center bus will take the team to Virginia, where it will be joined by its other members from around the country to compete.
Rivera reiterated how happy he was to learn from Long Island’s established athletes, adding it’s been helpful as programs at home begin to take flight.
“In Puerto Rico we are starting to have leagues in high school — we are taking baby steps,” he said. “This is a super club, [Mission Fencing]. It’s complete with a gym, trainers, and I’m thankful for this opportunity. Jeff and Jennie like to help people, and there are not a lot of good people that open their homes like that in the world. I have to say that they have big hearts and they’re full of love.”
Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse
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By Bill Landon
Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.
“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”
Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.
Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.
“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”
Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.
“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”
Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.
“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”
Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.
First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.
“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”
Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.
“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”
Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.
“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”
Receives innaugural USA Fencing National High School Coach of the Year honor
Jeff Salmon is an accomplished fencer in his own right, but he now he has proof that his prodigies are receiving coaching that is second to none in the United States.
The acclaimed fencer and head coach of the boys team at Ward Melville High School was named the inaugural winner of the USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award.
“The word honor doesn’t even come close,” said Salmon, a Mount Sinai resident and owner of Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point. “It’s a cool award, it’s an amazing honor and it makes you reflect on a lifetime of work.”
Eighteen individuals from high schools in six different states were nominated for the prestigious award.
Under Salmon’s leadership, Ward Melville’s teams have continued a winning tradition, including capturing the 2016-17 Long Island championship. The program has maintained a 158-match winning streak that ranks among the most impressive in interscholastic athletics nationwide.
“Jeff’s done so much for the kids here, but promoted the sport throughout Suffolk County, the state and the nation,” Ward Melville athletic director Peter Melore said. “Jeff’s a fantastic coach and he’s been honored in so many ways on local levels, it was time for him to be recognized at the national level.”
The Comsewogue High School graduate who originally competed in foil made the switch to sabre at Penn State University. Although he was a Suffolk County champion and Empire State Games gold medalist while he was a Warrior, the switch proved to work in Salmon’s favor.
“The Penn State team had strong foilers and could use a sabre fencer,” he said. “I was a little disappointed with my achievements in foil, so I was willing to accept the new challenge. It benefited me to switch and I adapted quite well.”
During his years as a Nittany Lion, he trained under Emmanuil Kaidanov, a five-time U.S. national team coach and Wes Glon, an Olympic and World Championship coach. Salmon placed in the top 12 as an individual in the NCAA championships and was one of two sabre fencers chosen for NCAA training at the German Olympic Center in 1987. He was an assistant coach for the Penn State fencing team during two national championship seasons before he brought his expertise to Ward Melville by starting a fencing club in 1995. In 1999, by popular demand, the club became a varsity team.
His athletes are consistently among the top on Long Island, and his team has won 13 league, county and Long Island titles. Salmon has won Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors seven times and USA Fencing Long Island High School Coach of the Year three times, but this is his first national achievement, one that many said they thought was long overdue.
“I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”
— Danny Solomon
“I know he is one of the best coaches in the country, so it is a no-brainer to choose him,” rising Ward Melville senior Danny Solomon said. “I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”
Solomon, who is a county champion, has also won four national championships, including at this year’s Junior Olympics, one international competition and many national and international medals. He is a two-time USA Fencing cadet team member and has gone to the cadet world championships twice.
He credits all of his success to his, at times, intimidating coach.
“I was terrified of him,” he joked. “Imagine being a seventh-grader seeing this huge, scary, bald guy flailing swords around. It would scare anyone.”
But the sabre competitor said things drastically changed over time.
“He is the reason I am the fencer I am today,” Solomon said. “He has definitely pushed me everyday. He can be both serious and friendly, but is always trying to get the best out of you.”
Soon-to-be University of Notre Dame freshman Jack Rohan agreed.
“He always tries his best to relate to his fencers to the point where he is not a coach but a friend,” he said. “He has been a huge contributor to my improvement in fencing and definitely deserves such an award.”
The sabre fencer, who joined the Patriots in eighth grade, was named All-Long Island last year after finishing with the best record in the county (35-3). He also won gold in sabre at the Jeff Wolfe Holiday Tournament.
His older sister Alexa played for Salmon, so Rohan was familiar with his longtime coach, and said he decided to give up focusing on his primary sport, lacrosse, to fence.
“On the Ward Melville team we commonly refer to him as ‘the magic’ since talented fencers may graduate, but he is always able to put together a championship-caliber team,” Jack Rohan said of the decorated coach.
Melore, who stepped in as athletic director a couple of years ago, is proud to have Salmon as part of the program.
“He’s poised, professional, smart, passionate about the sport and really good with the kids,” he said. “He’s a great teacher of the sport. A lot is done in preparation, before and during matches, and he knows just when to give support and strategy to our athletes. It’s reassuring to have a veteran, and rapport is everything. We’re very proud he have this great program and tradition that Jeff built and I feel confident that our kids are getting taught the right way.”
Salmon said the joy he gets in seeing his students achieve their goals means more to him than any award or achievement.
“As the years went on, I found that I had a lot more satisfaction just changing the kids lives and building the confidence in them and having them grow as human beings,” he said. “Certainly the tool is fencing, but I find that that’s been the real joy in the journey.”
He reflected on similar ideas when he gave his acceptance speech, after receiving the award from his former coach Kaidanov.
“Not everyone is going to be an All-American, not everyone is going to be an Olympian, but what we do as high school coaches is take kids that have their hat over their head, their hands in their pockets, and we have them stand up straight and be confident in themselves,” he said. “This sport is hard — really, really hard. Parents really need to understand how hard this is mentally, physically. And that little success that they had makes them the men and women that they become. It gives them the confidence to go on in life — whether they achieve great things in fencing or just get that ‘E’ [lowest fencer rating] that they’ve been wanting so badly. It’s so important.”
The Centereach boys’ fencing team notched its first win of the season, 18-9 after hitting the road to take on Brentwood Jan. 7, before the snow began to fall.
Saberist Dante DeBonis struck first for the Cougars. The senior blanked his opponent 5-0, and sophomore Aiden Donnelly followed with a close 5-4 win over Brentwood’s Emanuel Santiago for a 2-0 lead.
Although dropping the final saber match, Ray Rahman started off foil with a win, as the senior edged his challenger 5-3, and was followed by junior David Hatami, who outscored Brentwood’s Shaib Ali, 5-3.
Centereach head coach Glenn Schnabel said Rahman has quickly risen in the ranks to become Centereach’s top fencer.
“He’s our No. 1 foil guy — he went 3-0 today, but early in the season he was sort of one-dimensional, he was relying on one or two moves,” Schnabel said of Rahman. “We talked about what it takes to be an elite fencer. You’ve got to use three or four moves, you have to change it up and he used a lot of different moves today.”
Completing the sweep in foil for Round 1 was sophomore foilist Jarod Chang, who defeated his challenger 5-3.
Centereach was solid throughout the rest of the round, as two of the final three bouts, all epée, were won by large margins. Junior James Moore narrowly defeated his opponent, 4-3, before sophomores Abir Das and Jayden Garcia won their respective bouts, 5-1, to put the Cougars out front 8-1.
“I did a good job getting [my opponent] close to me,” Das said. “I took big steps forward and small steps back. I’m going to focus on making each move better, and you can only do that by doing it over and over again — making small improvements and then making them faster.”
Schnabel said he liked what he saw out on the strip.
“I like the fact that they’re committing to their moves, because earlier in the season, they were timid — maybe afraid — so now I see confidence in their moves,” the head coach said. “Now it’s easier, because they’re more comfortable; we can work on [technique], we can fix the moves and they can [hone] them, making them better for the next match.”
DeBonis, Rahman, Chang, Garcia and Das all won their second bouts in Round 2, to put Centereach ahead 13-5 going into Round 3.
DeBonis, a co-captain who was named first All-County and All-Long Island last season, and finished third in this year’s Brentwood holiday tournament, made short work of Brentwood’s Allen Bettencourt, winning his third bout of the day, 5-1.
“I think I did well defensively, which is what I like to do,’ he said. “I try to make them react [to me] and not react to them. The biggest thing I did wrong today is I looked at the blade a couple of times, and you don’t want to do that because then you lose the action.”
Rahman, also a co-captain, who was named second team All-County last year, also capped his day with a third win, by a 5-2 margin.
“I thought I did well adapting to their style, but they’re great fencers,” Rahman said of his Brentwood opponents. “They figured me out in some situations, and controlling the tempo of the match is something I need to work on.”
Das also scored a win in the final round to sweep on the day, besting his foe 5-3.
“Abir has really come a long way, especially today with his strategy,” Schnabel said of the No. 2 epéeist, “He’s picking the right moves to use at the right time.”
Centereach, now 1-4, will host Walt Whitman, 6-1, on Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Newfield was searching for its first win of the season, but the Wolverines had their hands full Dec. 19 with a matchup against Ward Melville on the fencing strip. The Patriots dynasty handily outscored its opponent 19-8 to extend their undefeated season to 4-0. Sabreist Jack Rohan defeated his third opponent on the night to give his team the 14th victory out of 27 possible, which put the meet away.
Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon flushed his bench to get his nonstarters some experience on the strip, and even those Patriots excelled.
“This year we have a lot of seniors and then there’s a big empty spot, so I’m trying to prepare for the future,” Salmon said. “But I feel pretty comfortable this season. It’s next season that I’m trying to get ready for.”
Sophomore foilist Jake Hempe broke the ice for Newfield in the fifth bout of the evening, defeating Ward Melville’s Regan St. Clair 5-1.
Hempe is undefeated after four meets, and with his victories over Ward Melville, improved to 15-0 on the season.
“Ward Melville is exactly what I was expecting,” Hempe said. “ I fence with these guys at club, but as far as our performance, we just have to be more aggressive. We have the right actions, but sometimes we’re too slow. We need to come off the blade faster and we have to finish.”
Ward Melville senior epéeist Michael Jaklitsch blanked his opponent 5-0 in the seventh bout to stretch his team’s lead to 6-1.
“We’re a strong team — we fenced really well — so it’s nice when we face a team that may not be as strong, where we can get our new fencers out on the strip,” Jaklitsch said. “The big thing is to get them ready in case we have an injury or someone gets sick.”
Jaklitsch said his squad is shallow in epée, so his focus has been training the new fencers.
Newfield sabreist Patrick Hyneman said, despite being shutout by his opponent, the defeat makes him a better fencer.
“I had fenced them during a tournament, and when I go up against them, I learn so much from these guys,” Hyneman said. “Sure, it’s sad to lose, but to fence these guys — I take what I’ve learned into my next match.”
Newfield head coach Kyle Schirmer said his team is young, with just two seniors and one junior, and said it’s a sophomore that stands out on his team.
“Hempe is my captain — he’s been on the team since the seventh grade, he’s a good team leader, he’s patient and he helps the other kids,” said the coach.
Ward Melville foilist Matthew Chiarelli won his first bout 5-2, but lost his second in a close contest, falling 5-4 to Hempe.
“We got a lot of the new fencers in today, which is always nice,” Chiarelli said. “That’s great to get them out on the strip because they are the future of our team, so it’s good to bring them in early to see what it’s like out there.”
With the loss, Newfield drops to 0-5 and will host another winless team in Brentwood, Dec. 22 at 5 p.m.
“My team is very young, so we’re going to work on the basics right now,” Schirmer said. “We face Brentwood next, and it’ll go a lot better than it went today.”