One year after a magical performance from the women's team in the 2018 ACC Championships, the North Carolina fencing teams both placed third of four teams in this year's tournament at Boston College.
The women's team entered the weekend against No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 6 Duke, and unranked Boston College with confidence after claiming its first ACC title in program history last year, when the Tar Heels upset both Duke and Notre Dame.
The first day of competition in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts began with the women’s individual bouts and concluded with the men’s team events.
For the Tar Heels, Saturday was highlighted by the individual success of Jackie Litynski. The junior took home the only individual medal of the day, earning silver for her efforts in sabre. Despite a disappointing weekend against Duke earlier in the season, this tournament marked a return to form in the eyes of her coaches.
“She fenced very consistently,” head coach Ron Miller said. “She rebounded nicely, and really did well.”
In the men’s team competition, UNC struggled against the nationally ranked squads of Notre Dame and Duke. The Tar Heels lost their first match to in-state rival Duke, 18-9, and dropped another match to the No. 1 ranked Irish, who handled the strip decisively and defeated UNC 21-6.
Despite two disappointing losses to some of the nation’s toughest opponents, the Tar Heel men ended the day on a positive note with a 15-12 win against unranked Boston College. Their record of 1-2 on the day was enough to secure third place overall.
On Sunday, roles were reversed as the men stepped up for their individual bouts and women’s team looked to defend their 2018 title. The men started the day off with a pair of podium finishes from senior Matthew Garrelick and sophomore Joe Taylor.
Taylor provided UNC with their only medal in the epee for the weekend, locking up bronze in his 15-12 victory over BC’s Thomas Park. Immediately following Taylor’s podium clinch, Garrelick secured a silver medal for the Tar Heels. He battled his way to the championship bout for the men’s sabre before falling to Notre Dame’s Malcolm Fields 15-8 in his final match of the tournament.
To round out the day, the women’s team finished third after ending the day 1-2. Losses to Duke and Notre Dame were followed by a 17-10 win over Boston College.
Who stood out?
Despite the domination of No. 1 ranked Notre Dame, whose men’s and women’s teams both walked off the strip with ACC titles, individual performances from UNC left Miller with optimism going forward into the NCAA tournament.
“I think individually, we fenced strong enough that we should hold the seed we had going into the tournament,” Miller said. “Maybe a few people will have advanced, especially Matthew Garrelick and Jackie (Litynski).”
As evidenced by the potential jump in their NCAA seeding, it is Garrrelick and Litynski who represent the Tar Heel’s best chance at postseason success.
When was it decided?
From the beginning of the tournament, both the men’s and women’s titles were Notre Dame’s to lose. Despite UNC’s surprising women’s team victory last year, the Fighting Irish proved their supremacy in this year’s rematch.
Notre Dame left the building on Sunday having swept all individual gold medals in epee, foil, and saber for both men and women. Their individual dominance culminated in two team ACC Championships, further proving why they are ranked No. 1 in the collegiate fencing coaches poll.
Why does it matter?
The ACC Championship weekend served as UNC’s first postseason test after the regular season. Despite the lackluster performance as a whole, the event allowed for individual Tar Heels to receive recognition. The three fencers who finished on the podium in individual events are now part of the few to receive All-Conference honors.
“There are about 200 athletes total, but only the top three in each weapon earn all conference,” Miller said. “It’s pretty hard to do that, so it’s nice that we had two individuals on the men's side and at least one on the women’s side.”
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will begin their title quest on Mar. 9 in the NCAA regional round in Easton, PA.
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