For the North Carolina fencing team, this season has been all about growth.
Coach Ron Miller came into the year with 21 freshmen, so there was no question that this year’s fencing squads would be largely green.
But to say that this is a rebuilding year for UNC fencing would be an incorrect assumption.
Four months into the season, both the men’s and women’s teams are receiving votes in the CollegeFencing360.com Coaches’ Poll.
The season so far has been highlighted by Miller’s 1,300th victory — which the Tar Heels secured with a 23-4 win against Drew University — and the performances of senior captain Kevin Nadeau, who notched an eighth-place finish in foil at Penn State’s Garrett Open in November.
Miller was especially impressed with the performance of his less-experienced fencers.
“There was actually a scheduling change in some of our meets in New York and Philadelphia at the last minute,” he said. “We had to split up our A and B teams, so the B team got to fence as the varsity team in Philadelphia.
However, the B team fenced so well that they actually qualified for the first round of the NCAA Championships.”
Senior captain Shannon Beamon noted that much of her team’s success has come from the program’s tradition of mixing newer fencers with more experienced ones.
“There has been an openness and willingness to work with each other, with the older people working with the younger people, and the younger people listening to what everybody is trying to tell them,” Beamon said. “I was a walk-on my sophomore year. I didn’t know anything about fencing. Now I’m fencing A-level fencers regularly and doing a decent job of it.”
Sophomore Sam Austin believes that the camaraderie created by the program has been a positive influence on the team’s performance.
“I know that my squad is extremely close with each other, and we always have each other’s backs,” Austin said. “As soon as we’re done, we go over to watch the other squads fence. It’s rewarding for the other squads to know that they have the whole team behind their backs at all times.”
Freshman Gillian Litynski agreed that compared to other fencing teams, the Tar Heels are closer than most.
“When we go to tournaments, a lot of the other teams don’t seem as united as Carolina is,” she said. “We make more noise than everyone else.”
Looking forward, Miller said that one of his main goals was to synchronize all three of his weapon squads.
“One of our main problems this season has been that at any given time, two of our three weapon squads have fenced exceptionally well, but one has not been up to par,” Miller said. “We want to get all three fencing at a high level.”
Both teams will travel to Duke this weekend to participate in the Duke Dual Meets before traveling to New York City at the end of the month for the National Squad Championships. Their season will culminate with the NCAA Championships at Ohio State on March 22nd through 25th.
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