The North Carolina fencing teams were in Columbus, Ohio this weekend for the Ohio State Invitational, their first and only, regular competition of the regular season.
By the end of the weekend, each team had played six matches, with the men’s team going 3-3 and the women’s team going 2-4.
The first day of the Ohio State Invitational saw a difficult start for both the men’s and the women’s teams. The men went 1-2 on Saturday, prevailing over Air Force but losing to Ohio State and Penn State by scores of 15-12 and 17-10, respectively. The women went 1-2 as well, defeating Northwestern, 16-11, but falling to Ohio State and Penn State.
On day two, the men’s team saw more success. They lost to Ohio State once again, but beat Wayne State twice by scores of 20-7 and 19-8, respectively. The women’s team continued to struggle, suffering defeats from Ohio State and Northwestern before finishing the day with a crushing 25-2 win over Wayne State, in which the sabres went a perfect 9-0.
Who stood out?
There were multiple standout performances for both of the UNC fencing teams.
On the men’s side, junior sabre Beni Rabinowitz won eight bouts, and first-year epee Reza Merchant won five. Rabinowitz is a two-time NCAA championships qualifier who earned a spot at the cancelled event in 2020. Merchant, originally from Scarsdale, N.Y., is also highly-rated as a former Junior Olympics qualifier.
As for the women, junior Aubrey Molloy won nine bouts, as did first-year Allegra Parker, while fellow first-year Tarleton Hunt won ten. Molloy was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll last year, and Parker and Hunt are are also both former Junior Olympics qualifiers.
Why does it matter?
Head coach Matt Jednak cited the opportunity to compete as the main highlight from the weekend.
“Being able to go out and use all of our training… and actually compete against other schools. That was the best part,” Jednak said.
Jednak’s words emphasize the common struggle of most collegiate sports programs across the nation during the pandemic, since the once-taken-for-granted act of playing against other schools is now a privilege that teams across the country hope they don't lose.
The UNC fencing teams have had to be just as deft in adjusting their preparation for competition as in their movements on the piste.
“We’ve had to be really strategic about our practice schedules, taking extra precautions in consideration for the mental part of the sport,” Jednak said.
These mental preparations are even more important than ever, given that, due to health and safety regulations, no tournament or meet is guaranteed to happen. Planning to compete takes preparation, focus and adequate time to prepare game plans, all of which has become more difficult in recent months.
When do they play next?
The North Carolina fencing teams will suit up again in less than three weeks for the ACC individual championships on Saturday, Feb. 27 and the team championships the next day.
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