The story behind the success of Great Neck North High School’s men’s and women’s fencing teams in both winning the Nassau County Championships is one in which egos and personal achievement were pushed far into the background.
“It was such a rare feat,” said a justifiably proud coach Michael Calderaro in looking back at his teams’ accomplishments. “But I would say that it was even more rare as to the type of kids we have on the teams.”
“It didn’t come down necessarily to fencing ability,” he explained. “You have to have some of that, but we’ve had kids with even higher level fencing ability in this program before and we achieved no where near this level.”
“These kids genuinely cared deeply about each other and each other’s success,” he added. “When one person had an off night, someone else stepped up. We really worked together as a team.”
“I think they achieved so much because they went well beyond the sport of fencing. It was the atmosphere that they created for themselves.”
There were no captains designated on either team, no real singular team leaders. “We didn’t assign captains,” Calderaro said. “Everyone on both teams has taken on the role of captain on any given night at any given moment.”
Calderaro, who has coached North for five years, shares his duties with Dylan Healy who’s been with the team for four years. Healy, a St. John’s University graduate who is continuing his studies for a nursing degree, fenced for Great Neck South until he graduated in 2009.
“The basic techniques, the fine-tuning stuff, that’s Dylan,” says Calderaro who teaches in the SEAL program at the Cumberland School.
The men’s team had a 14-1 record and the women’s team was 14-2 before they both ran into Suffolk County powerhouse Ward Melville last week and lost the Long Island championship matches. Ward Melville’s women’s team has won the title 13 years in a row and the men’s team has won for the past eight years.
Earlier in the month, the Great Neck North women’s team defeated Garden City to end that school’s two-year run as County team champion. The men’s team won against Jericho for its team title.
The last time a Nassau school won both fencing championships was in 2005 when Great Neck North also achieved that rarity. The women’s team won the Blazers’ most recent County championship in 2008.
The men’s team held its own against Ward Melville before losing 14-9. At one point the match was a 5-5 tie. “A lot of the bouts were close, 5-4, 5-3,” coach Healy said. “Time after time we were really, really close but we would just fall a little bit short.” The Blazers lost the women’s section, 14-2.
Asked about prospects for continued success next season, both coaches were upbeat. “The girls are graduating fewer seniors than the boys,” Calderaro mentioned. “I’m always optimistic.”
“We have a lot of upcoming talent,” Healy added. “They watched the seniors compete this year closely.”
Though the Great Neck North emphasis was not on personal achievements, many team members received Nassau County honors, including Patrick Gao who was named to the All Long Island team.
Sharon Elkouby and Rachel Berkower received all county honorable mentions and Mimi Jiao, Diana Kim and Michelle Metros were designated as all county 2nd team members.
Griffen Healy (coach Healy’s brother) and Jae Cho were all county 1st team selections. Adam Parket and Albert Aboaf achieved all county honorable mention and Alec Li, Philip Liu and Brandon Shimiaie made the 2nd team.