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Tuesday May 30th

UNC fencing has high hopes for 2022-23 season

<p>Aubrey Molloy competes at the ACC fencing championship at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill on Feb. 27, 2021. <br>
Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletics/Jeffrey A. Camarati.</p>
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Aubrey Molloy competes at the ACC fencing championship at Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill on Feb. 27, 2021.
Photo Courtesy of UNC Athletics/Jeffrey A. Camarati.

The North Carolina fencing team is already in motion ahead of the 2022-2023 season, after the women's team excelled at the October North American Cup in Minneapolis, Minn. At the event, redshirt sophomore Sophia Kovacs won the silver medal in women’s sabre, beating 143 competitors from around the world.

After the women's team finished third at the ACC Championships last season, Kovacs stood out to UNC head coach Matt Jednak. This season, he will look to her to lead the Tar Heels to victory.

“Sophia had a really good showing, and she was someone that we're extremely excited to have join us,” Jednak said. 

The women’s foil captain and most improved on the squad in the 2020-21 season, Sarah Followill, was also impressed by Kovacs’ performance in Minneapolis. In her senior year, as Followill enters her final season with the team, she understands her role in supporting younger fencers on the team. 

"We try to lift each other up as much as possible and support each other,” Followill said. “I think they're [her teammates] really understanding that pretty quickly, which is great to see.”  

Followill will rely on senior Sophia Mandour, who finished 15th at the NCAA Championships in 2022, to help lead the team this season. Mandour and Followill have had a strong friendship for years, since their visits to Chapel Hill together. 

“She's looking for results, but she's also looking to help the freshmen learn from her success,” Followill said of Mandour. “She's really just looking to teach them." 

Men's épée captain Cameron Santos was one of the most successful fencers on the team last season. He was selected to the 2022 Mid-Atlantic/South All-Region Team and was the team's best finish in men's épée at the 2020 NCAA Regionals.

Although the men’s team finished fourth overall at the ACC Championship during the 2021-2022 season, Santos points to players like sophomore Eli Lippman as bright spots in the team's future. Lippman won gold in men's epee at the 2022 ACC Championships. 

"(We are) looking for something like that again and hoping to have really strong squads going into ACCs and are also looking to qualify more people to NCAAs,” Santos said. “We got a lot of people on the cusp last year.” 

Santos also expressed his excitement about incoming first-year Elden Wood, who placed second in Division I Men’s Sabre Summer Nationals in 2022. Wood will join the team alongside incoming first-year Nick Baumstein, a Brooklyn native and 2019 Y14 MF National Champion.

“He [Wood] is one of the top saberists in the country, so it's going to be interesting to see what he can do.” 

There are many standouts on the team heading into the new season, but both Followill and Santos emphasized fencing as a team sport. The team's success, they shared, rides on the collective culture, not the individual. 

Both captains praised Jednak for what he has done in his four years after taking over for the legendary Ron Miller, who was with the program for over 50 years. 

"There are really good relationships between teammates," Santos said. "I think that is going to carry us going into the season."

In November, the Tar Heels will have the rare opportunity to take on West Coast teams at the Western Invitational from Nov. 5-6 in Colorado. The team is also hosting the Tar Heel Invitational on Feb. 12, which will be the first regular season home bout for North Carolina since 2010. 

The postseason will be from Feb. 25-26 at the ACC Championships in Chestnut Hill, Mass. While the team looks forward to top finishes and high honors, Jednak said that the team is "really process-oriented" this year.

“We talk with all of our recruits extensively throughout the process to make sure that they are ready for it and engaged with it," he said.

The women’s team will be back in action on Saturday, Oct. 29 in Philadelphia at the Temple Open. The men will compete the following day at the same event. 


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