There are many sports that the Valley Stream Central High School District offers that require great hand-eye-coordination, exceptional footwork and endurance, but there’s only one sport where the athletes need those qualities plus the ability to avoid a weapon: fencing.
The girls’ fencing team recently wrapped up its fourth season with a record of 6-7 and will have its opening round playoff match at Great Neck South on Feb. 7. Second-year coach Evan Samuelson is happy with his team’s performance. After getting off to a 0-4 start, the team rebounded nicely, finishing 6-3 and earning the No. 5 seed in Nassau County.
“I knew we were better than that so it was really frustrating,” Samuelson said of his team’s slow start. He added that it was important for him not to let the girls get down on themselves, and to have them battle through the tough stretch.
Samuelson, who has been a substitute teacher in the district since last year, never fenced personally, but did his share of research when the coaching position became available. There are no assistant coaches for the team, so Samuelson said it’s helpful that all the girls are attentive and help each other out.
There is one fencing team for all three district high schools, although this year there are no girls from North High on the team. Out of the 18 athletes, eight girls are seniors, and are positive role models for the younger members, Samuelson said.
“If they see other girls not doing what they’re supposed to,” he said, “then they’ll step in and say something.”
Valley Stream’s top fencer is a sophomore from South High School, Sabrina Decopain. She has comprised a record of 34-3 this season, tying her for second most wins in Nassau County. Before joining the district’s team, Decopain honed her skills at the Five Towns Fencing Club in Hewlett. She said she was drawn to fencing because there’s both an individual aspect and a “mind game” component to it.
“It’s just so different,” she said of the sport. “The fact that I’m one of the youngest on the team makes me feel good that I’m doing a good job.”
Samuelson said that although she’s a sophomore, Decopain is one of the team leaders because of her prior fencing experience.
Central High School senior Carol Aguilar is another big threat, and finished the regular season with a 32-5 record. “She was really good last year but she’s really stepped it up this year,” Samuelson said.
Emily Camacho, a senior at Central, posted a 21-16 record and earned high praise from her coach. “She’s just one of those athletes that you just hope everyone’s like on your team,” Samuelson said.
One of Valley Stream’s top seniors, Janmarl Ligan, injured her shoulder in the middle of the season and finished with a 19-10 record. She’s been on the team for four years and first joined as a way to get more involved in school activities.
“I’m really glad that I decided to join,” she said, “because it’s changed my whole outlook in life on winning and losing and it’s my favorite sport.”
Ligan said that despite coming from different schools, the team gets along very well. Decopain added that she and her teammates don’t hesitate to share pointers with one another during matches or practices at Memorial Junior High School.
“After tryouts, you had trouble seeing who’s from what school because they all become close friends,” Samuelson said of his team.