CHAPEL HILL – The spring fencing season in North Carolina kicks off this weekend as the Tar Heels travel to the Penn State Duals on Sunday, January 16. The Penn State Duals will be the start of an exciting season that will see the Tar Heels square off on the boards almost every weekend until the NCAA Championships at the end of March. Hopes are high around the fencing program after some quality performances against top opponents during the fall season.
At the Western Invitational at the Air Force Academy in November, both men’s and women’s teams finished the weekend with winning records. The men’s team nearly pulled off the upset against Columbia, the 2019 national champions, dropping just three points. The Tar Heels will face Columbia again this weekend at Penn State.
The Tar Heels will look to continue to improve throughout the spring season, building on an impressive group of young athletes who have qualified for the 2021 NCAA Championships. A total of 11 Tar Heels have qualified for the NCAA, including at least one athlete from each weapon group in each gender. Carolina finished sixth in the tag team competition, scoring one of its best performances in recent history. Nine of the eleven athletes return for the spring season. Using their talent and experience, the Tar Heels will seek to qualify more athletes to compete in the 2022 NCAA Championships in South Bend, Indiana.
Before the NCAA championship, the Heels will make the short trip to Duke to challenge for an ACC championship. The men’s team is seeking its first ACC Tag Team Championship since the tournament resumed in 2015. The women’s team will be looking to win its first title since 2018. To get your hands on the ACC title , the Tar Heels will have to conquer nationally ranked programs such as Duke and 2021 national champion Notre Dame.
Coach Matt Jednak will lead the Tar Heels in his third season as head coach. The former program assistant and student-athlete will look to build on last year’s success and continue to work to get the most out of this talented group.
Q- What have you seen from the team this fall?
A- Although the first meetings have no bearing on playoff selection, the level of competition is still very high. We reinforce and solidify the cultural expectations of the program while getting great reps against high profile opponents. A big part of the fall is about physically preparing the athletes. The days are long, we will start the meeting around eight o’clock in the morning and will finish around six o’clock. It’s a long day of competition both physically and mentally. We want to make sure we’re in and focused, even when it’s towards the end of the day and fatigue is starting to creep in. Another big part of fall is trying to get athletes to understand why we train so hard. . We do a lot of intensive conditioning in training, exercises that go beyond fencing, but that’s because we’re trying to prepare them for a season that’s a little different from what they’re used to on the outing. High School.
Q- What does teamwork look like in fencing?
A- We always talk about teamwork because to get where you want to go, you need to have a support system. You cannot train and improve on your own. You need to have a group of like-minded people who aren’t there for themselves. If the team can say “it doesn’t have to be about me, it has to be about us, we’re getting better”, you get better, your sparring partner gets better and the team will improve. It is a cyclic piece where the sum of the parts is greater than any individual. We want the training room to have lots of different styles and aesthetics, tempos, speeds and heights, so when we train we get a replica of what we’re going to see during the season. The idea of teamwork also spills over into competition. If you’ve sweated, bled, and built a trusting relationship with someone during training, when the going gets tough, you have that person you can lean on and ask for help. You know you can trust this person to give you honest and helpful feedback about your opponent or yourself. With this, you can progress with each fight.
Q- What are your goals for the team this spring?
A – Our objectives are always the same, we want to qualify as many people as possible for the NCAA championships, that is two shooters per weapon per gender. This brings to a maximum of 12 people that we are looking to qualify. I think for the team, we keep pushing forward no matter what lineup is happening on the Strip for this game. They will support each other and believe that we are setting them up for success. We will continue to challenge them. There is not really an easy part in our schedule, we have a very small turnover between our competitions and when we have to start again. The team must make sure to stay tuned to what their body is feeling, whether it’s an injury or their mental state, or a tactical issue. Just make sure we deal with them because we can keep going through them.
Q- What is the team looking to improve?
A- There are technical things that we will continue to work on as a unit, which is a big part of it. Another thing is to continue to believe in ourselves and to be convinced that we are doing the right things in training. I imagine it happens in other sports as well when we train, and we train with the same people day after day. Sometimes when you get into a competition, you lack the confidence to do the moves your teammates have seen you do hundreds of times, even though it’s a strong thing to do. Believing in our skills and strengths against an opponent who hasn’t seen you as much as your teammates is a very big peace for them to keep achieving. They come in with a skill set and we hone it to make it stronger, and they can run it against someone they haven’t faced every day.
Q- Who emerged as team leader this fall?
A – Our captains are doing a very good job. Aubrey Molloy, Beni Rabinowitz, and Claire Harmon are our leaders by title of captains. There are also our sophomores, our sophomore class, who are on the team right now and who were able to qualify for nationals last year and already have the experience of being there. Their attempt to retaliate is really interesting to watch. There’s a pressure they put on themselves to repeat it. There’s also this idea that other teams have now seen them, so they’re trying to make sure their game evolves and changes. It was nice to see them continue to grow and grow. We have seen a lot of good results from them during the fall season. All of our competitors, not just our current sophomore class, but everyone who went to the NCAA played a very important role as leaders this fall. We have our captains there, but for us in particular, the leaders don’t actually wear those badges. She’s the person who can see a time when she needs to call a time out and knows that her teammates will not only take the time to listen to her, but believe in the action and energy she’s there for. That’s a lot of what our sports psychology is. How do these communication skills stay alive? How can we ensure we are reaching people appropriately? How do they hear it? If I say something one way and it’s not received properly, then it really hasn’t served its purpose. We have to make sure that we are talking correctly for what the person needs to hear. If I’m telling you something very technical but you need to hear something more emotional, then I’m not with you. Our leaders are constantly striving at every class level to improve this level of communication, but also to support us as we compete.
Q- What are the main dates on the calendar this season?
A- Each meeting has its nuances. The first meeting we return to will be important because it is the first meeting of the spring season. From there, watch the next one in a row and really try to find out what works. It’s like going to the golf course, picking up your irons, wedges and woods, and finding out what worked well this weekend. The next time you pick them up, they might not work the same way. Just stay loose and lower expectations. I have to adapt to make my game work and be organic with what works and keep pushing that.