For the UNC fencing teams, home was an ancient memory. The Tar Heels had not hosted a regular season home meet in a decade.
That all changed at the Tar Heel Invitational on Sunday, Feb. 12.
A low of 37 degrees. Near freezing rain. On a gloomy, gray Sunday morning, UNC should have been asleep, but Eddie Smith Field House welcomed a sizable crowd, ready to witness the long-awaited homecoming of UNC fencing.
“I wasn’t worried about the weather,” graduate student Luca Rampazzo said. “Inside, it is always sunny. We bring the energy.”
The Tar Heel Invitational was set to host four schools, but a last-minute departure by Boston College shifted the plans. The meet went on, with Long Island University and the Air Force Academy making the journey to Chapel Hill.
The historic day began with a ceremony honoring the seniors of the UNC team. All were handed flowers by head coach Matt Jednak and a warm round of applause from the filled bleachers.
“I think the event was amazing,” Jednak said. “I think the support from the parents, the students, the staff, our families: it was insane. I look forward to doing this again every year.”
Bleachers were set up around the indoor track with six strips in the middle, one for each event: men's and women's epee, saber and foil. Fans had signs made and roared with the benches after every UNC point.
“It was nice looking at the support around us, seeing all the posters of all the teammates and just seeing the creativity in the crowd and on the strip,” senior Sophia Mandour said.
The No. 14 women started off the day winning saber 7-2 and overall 19-8 against LIU.
Sofia Molho, UNC junior, won all three of her fencing bouts, leading women’s foil to a 5-4 victory.
Women’s epee was also dominated by the Tar Heels, with a 7-2 win versus LIU.
Junior Sophia Kovacs showed her dominance in front of the home crowd, leading all UNC fencers with a 6-0 record.
Similarly, the men found early success against the Sharks with a 21-6 victory.
Rampazzo went 2-1 in round one as men’s saber roared to a 7-2 win. Junior Jake McGillion-Moore went undefeated as UNC won the foil event 9-0. To finish it off, men’s epee won 5-4 on the heels of clutch victories from sophomore Will Joseph and junior Henry Shugart.
In round two, the Tar Heels shifted their focus to Air Force.
The women jumped out early in all weapons. Kovacs and the rest of the saberists won 7-2. Women’s epee won 6-3, and women’s foil was capped off by Mandour for a 6-3 victory. The women walked away with another 19-8 score.
Mandour, one of the leaders on the squad, enjoyed the perks of competing in Chapel Hill for a change.
“You get to sleep in your own bed,” Mandour said. “You’re just like ‘This is my place. You are coming to my place, so you better be ready.’ With that in mind I was just ready to fence, enjoy the day, and have fun.”
The men were locked into a tight battle with Air Force after winning saber 6-3. UNC fell in foil 5-4, leaving just epee.
All members of both teams, men and women, were gathered around as the intensity heated up. The two sides yelled at the referee and shouted after every point. Even Jednak’s daughter was attached to her dad throughout the bouts.
The last epee bout was headlined by sophomore Eli Lippman. UNC was down 6-1 at that point, but the intensity did not die. Even with nothing to fence for, Lippman entertained the crowd, winning 5-2. Air Force won the overall round 15-12.
The Tar Heel Invitational marked the end of the regular season, and the Tar Heels will head to Boston College for the ACC Championships. The NCAA Championships will be held in Durham later this year.
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