In the closest thing to a home meet this season, the North Carolina fencing team competed at Duke University over the weekend. The men's team (23-14) competed on Saturday, finishing 3-2, while the women's team (24-16) competed on Sunday, finishing 2-3 and granting head coach Ron Miller his 1,600th career win.
“One thousand six hundred is just another number, it really is," Miller said. "When I hit 1,500, that was special, 1,600 is more special, but it’s just another number.”
Miller, currently in his 52nd season at UNC, announced his plans to retire after last season, but returned due to lack of a replacement. As the Tar Heels' first and only fencing coach, Miller is responsible for not only the birth of fencing at UNC but the upkeep of a dominant southern fencing program. In 2016, Miller received the USFCA's Award of Merit for accomplishments and impact on the sport of fencing, and in 2018 coached the women’s team to its first ACC Championship.
Win number 1,600 occurred in the second match of the day for the women after a 16-11 victory over Boston College. Miller kept the word about the potential milestone quiet prior to the monumental win, but his fencers were happy to see him get credit after all his time with the program.
“He’s always been here for us – he’s always there for Carolina," junior Jackie Litynski said. "Carolina is his heart and soul and he really puts that into his coaching."
The women's team started the day off with a big win, upsetting No. 2 Northwestern, 14-13. The Tar Heels then toppled Boston College for Miller's landmark win, but in the third match they fell to host team No. 6 Duke, 16-11. UNC met No. 4 Penn State in the fourth match and fell, 17-10. Then, in the final round of the day, UNC appeared worn out as the team faced Air Force and lost, 18-9.
According to senior Sydney Persing, the win against Northwestern solidified the idea that beating a top team is more than possible for the Tar Heels. After a disappointing loss against the Blue Devils, they’ll be looking to implement this mindset heading into the ACC Championships starting on Feb. 23.
“We fenced well against Duke, but not well enough,” Miller said.
Fueled by a powerful 8-1 performance in sabre, the UNC men opened the day with a 15-12 win over Johns Hopkins. With a win in all three weapons, the men continued their day beating Air Force in dominant fashion, 16-11. UNC faced its sixth-ranked rival Duke in its third match and fell, 19-8, then dropped a match to No. 4 Penn State, 22-5. After a pair of losses to the top teams, the Tar Heels closed out the day strong with a 16-11 win over Boston College.
“Going into the postseason, the men in particular have really gelled as a team," Miller said. "With 10 freshmen, it was a little bit of a road to get there, but they’ve done great."
According to Miller, the day was not without its ups and downs, but both teams fenced well this weekend. Persing was able to secure a win against Boston College as she competed in her last regular season meet. Reflecting on her coach and what he has done for the team, she gave credit where credit was due.
“We’re in a real transition period in our team right now, and some things are not ideal," Persing said. "But coach cares about this team a lot, and that hasn’t wavered at all over 52 years."
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