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UNC fencing coach Matt Jednak named ACC Men's Coach of the Year

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UNC fencing head coach Matt Jednak during the second annual Tar Heel Duals in the Eddie-Smith Fieldhouse on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.

UNC head fencing coach Matt Jednak has found his own light. 

Just five years after he took over the program, Jednak was named the 2024 ACC Men’s Coach of the Year and led the men’s team to its first ACC title since 1980. 

But he's faced a lot of pressure to get there. Following the retirement of long-time UNC fencing coach Ron Miller, Jednak was tasked with upholding the legacy of the man who taught him both how to play and how to coach the game. Miller died in June, and though he is no longer physically part of the program, his legacy continues to influence the team's culture. Jednak said Miller's approach, which he described as supportive, inquisitive and motivating, influences the way he approaches his job today.

"I think that those are the skills that are really helping us to grow a strong program," Jednak said

Former UNC fencer and assistant coach Lisa Campi-Sapery said that while Jednak has established his own culture, he has also continued to pay homage to Miller — especially his positivity and forwardness.

“Sometimes I watch Matt and I see [Miller],” Campi-Sapery said. “A kid comes off after a loss and he's getting them to reframe what they need to do. He's getting them to think next bout, next touch, next moment and it's just continuing [the] legacy."

Campi-Sapery said Jednak being in his fifth year as head coach is significant because it's often when good coaches start to make their mark. 

When coaches are five years in, they've had the opportunity to curate the team’s roster and implement their own philosophy. 

“[Jednak looks for] all the things that most coaches look for, like physical abilities, results and all that, but he also looks for what would fit into the team personality-wise,” first-year fencer Boris Muga said. “What your goals are, things of that nature, how you deal with your emotions, if you have any leadership skills.” 

Muga, a walk-on, was named the men’s Most Valuable Fencer at the ACC Championships. Muga said he was able to win more matches towards the end of the season because of Jednak’s belief in him. 

“He put me into a lot of matches at the beginning of the season trying to build me as a fencer. Through that, I was able to get a lot more reps in and grow exponentially,” he said

Muga said Jednak deserves this coaching recognition. He cited Jednak's inspirational talks and said the coach always speaks to players about their lives outside of fencing. 

Although this award is representative of the work he's done, Jednak said he feels the honor is more of a testament to the program as a whole and its accomplishments this year — specifically its ACC Championship.

“It's very easy for that to happen when you have a great team, right?” Jednak said. “It's not an individual award."

Although the former UNC fencer is no longer able to put on the mask and compete for North Carolina, Jednak said being a coach allows him to remain a competitor. And, more than that, it allows him to mentor college athletes, just like Miller did for him years ago.

“I feel a great sense of pride to be able to represent a place that gave me so much and that I have a lot of pride for on a competitive level,” Jednak said. “It's everything you want.” 

@dailytarheel | sports@dailytarheel.com

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