Great Neck South boys fencers regain county crown, join girls as LIC champs

Great Neck South boys fencers regain county crown, join girls as LIC champs
The Great Neck South boys and girls fencing team pose with their trophies after winning the Long Island Championships on Feb. 14. Photo credit: Great Neck South H.S.

The difference between a successful team and a successful program is in the passing on of knowledge.

A great team can come together for a year, maybe two, because it has excellent, motivated and talented athletes who all gel.

But a building a successful program, especially on the high school level when the athletes change so frequently, that is something much more difficult.

But there’s sustained excellence at the Great Neck South fencing programs, both on the boys and girls sides.

That’s evidenced in ways big and small. Big, as in yet another Nassau County and Long Island championship won by both squads last week, a couple of one-point squeakers in the county finals, followed up by LIC triumphs on Valentine’s Day.

But also in small ways, as shown in how one group of veteran fencers teach the younger ones, whom they once were.

“We’ve built this into a teaching program, so when we have timeouts, the kids go in and talk, and the kids help run practice,” said boys head coach Josh Baravarian. “Even if it’s a new kid, someone who comes in as a freshman, by the end of their sophomore year they’re pointing out things the opponent is doing, and they’re learning what’s going on. And then they’re teaching somebody else.

“That’s the only way to have longevity.”

Longevity is certainly what the Rebels boys have achieved, as they won their fourth Nassau county title in six years, and fifth in the last seven.

But before GNS could get to its 14-11 victory over Newfield in the LIC, it had to sweat out a wild win over Syosset a week earlier.

Right before the match the Great Neck boys watched their female counterpart eke by Syosset 14-13 in thrilling fashion, and that gave the boys a boost.

“Seeing them do that was inspiring,” said junior foil Dylan Kim.

Baravarian said he saw the body language of the Syosset fencers slump as they watched the girls matchup.

“You could see their energy level was gone,” Baravarian said. “And then once we got to the second round, I said ‘guys, look at their bench. They were not in it.'”
It still took a sensational effort from Great Neck to claim the win. After leading 5-4 after the first round, the match went back and forth until it was tied, 13-all going into the last bout.

That’s when sophomore Benson Chou, competing in the epee discipline, won the final match to set off a raucous celebration.

“There was a lot of pressure on him but we all had faith in him, and he did so great,” Kim said.

“It was just a crazy ending, because we had lost to them once already and we were so hype to beat them,” senior sabre Matthew Liu said. “And to see the girls pull it out too; we’re one big family with them so it was so great to see.”

In the Long Island Championship, the Rebels were the stronger foe but still needed great efforts from their trio of foilists who went 8-1 in their nine bouts, led by Kim and senior Justin Ahn going 3-0, while Justin Jia went 2-1.

“He’s a great leader and overcame a lot of adversity this year, with some foot injuries and just powered through,” Baravarian said of Kim.

In a rarity, the Great Neck South girls competed at the same time as the boys in the LIC, and the girls rallied from an early 6-3 deficit to win, 14-12.

After the boys team clinched, “the vibe just exploded,” Liu said. The bus ride home was filled with the usual sounds of Freddie Mercury belting out “We are the Champions” along with some Bruno Mars, Kim said.

“It’s something I’m going to never forget,” Kim said. “We left everything we had out on the strip, and it’s so wonderful to send the seniors out with another championship.”


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