On a weekend when the sports world was enthralled by Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 1,000th victory, a North Carolina coach reached a monumental mark of his own.
The UNC women’s fencing team set that milestone against Sacred Heart University at the Philadelphia Invitational tournament this weekend. The team's win was Coach Ron Miller's 1,400th victory, a number unparalleled in the collegiate fencing world.
Miller, who started UNC’s fencing program in 1967 and is the longest tenured coach at the university, credits the many athletes he has instructed over the years for his formidable achievement.
“One of the things that I think everyone should keep in mind is that it’s not the coach who makes the wins: it’s the athletes,” Miller said. “I feel like it’s a gift from all of my athletes from the very beginning until now.”
Though Miller’s milestone was equally as impressive, it didn’t garner the publicity Krzyzewski’s did — there were no camera crews or swarming reporters eager to speak with him after the match. In fact, many of his athletes didn’t even realize the significance of the win until later in the afternoon.
“When I was going up to fence, all I knew was that it was another bout that I needed to win for my team,” said Sarah Hanvy, whose win against Sacred Heart was number 1,400 for Miller. “It was just a nice culmination of things coming together. You feel successful. You’re a part of something that’s a lot bigger than yourself, something that means a lot.”
Despite missing key starters Evan and Diana Philpot to injury, plus team co-captain Mason Erb due to an academic conflict, both the men’s and women’s teams managed to go 3-2 on the weekend against several accomplished programs.
One of the Tar Heels’ top performers was junior Gordon Long, who went 13-2 at the tournament. Long said that although the competition wasn’t the toughest the team had faced, he believed everyone still surpassed expectations.
“I was the only starter on my squad and the other two were both walk-ons who had been fencing for less than two or three months,” Long said. “They got a number of wins against guys from other schools who had a lot more experience, so I was really impressed by that.”
One of the moments of the weekend that stood out for both Miller and Hanvy was the women’s match against No. 6 University of Pennsylvania.
Though the Tar Heels lost 13-14, Hanvy said the effort put forth bodes well for the team going forward.
“It’s really about opening your mind to the possibility that you can beat these teams,” she said. “It requires just having that positive attitude and the willingness to bring your all. I think all of our ladies and our guys this season have really tried to focus on that.”
But for the moment, UNC can focus on Miller's accomplishment.
The coach continued to humbly downplay the magnitude of his achievement, stating how the livelihood of his athletes was his primary takeaway from the weekend — not any sort of personal success.
“The biggest thing for me was the spirit and the energy of the team,” Miller added. “The support that the men gave the women and the women gave the men was outstanding. That was very gratifying.”
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