UNC fencers fight despite injuries at Penn State

Any time a team is preparing to face a top-10 opponent, mental preparation is key.

Building up to this past weekend, in which North Carolina faced three top-10 teams at the Penn State dual meets, the Tar Heels did plenty of that.

But physical preparation presented more of a challenge.

For the men, injuries were the story of the weekend. Both junior sabre competitors Nate Wiecha and Jonathan Blake couldn’t fence due to injury, and with freshman Gordon Long gone from the sabres’ ranks due to a family emergency, North Carolina’s roster was running thin.

“Out of five really strong fencers, we were down to two,” said coach Ron Miller. “That hurt us.”

Miller was forced to insert less experienced fencers into the fray to compensate for these absences.

“The guys who filled in for them did a good job,” Miller said. “But their lack of experience showed against the top teams.”

With tough competition in No. 5 Penn State, No. 7 Pennsylvania and No. 9 Columbia, the UNC men’s team finished its dual meets in State College 2-3.

Both the men’s and women’s teams won their matches against Division III schools Drew and Haverford.

Even though his team was facing injury issues, junior sabre fencer Sam Austin thought the team had prepared as well as it could for a weekend of stiff competition.

“We were aware of our problems before the weekend started,” Austin said. “So we had a day or two to mentally prepare ourselves.”

Along with injuries to sabre competitors, the men’s foil squad had an injury of its own to deal with.

Senior Joe Alter fenced despite a foot injury that affected his ability to execute offensively.

“Fortunately, he is an excellent defender, so he still had a winning record,” Miller said.

Alter finished Saturday with a 10-7 record, but his coach admitted the performance wasn’t as good as usual because of his injury.

On the women’s side, wins were difficult to come by with meets against No. 4 Penn State and No. 9 Temple on Saturday’s schedule. The women finished 2-4 overall.

The epee squad had the most success among UNC’s women’s teams, winning against five of the six teams it faced.

Senior co-captain Alexandria Mead led the way in that discipline, posting a record of 13-4.

Junior epee Kacie Albert added a 9-6 record to the her team’s tally and defeated fierce Nittany Lion competition.

“It was a hard weekend,” Albert said. “But going into it we knew that, and that’s how we trained.”

Sophomore sabre fencer Gillian Litynski led UNC’s sabre squad to three victories on the day, going 11-3 herself. Senior co-captain Sara Leung added a strong 8-7 record.

Overall, Miller liked what he saw throughout the weekend, but he said he’s glad his team is getting a break before its next meet later in January.

“Hopefully we will be healthier and back on track,” Miller said.

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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