Fencing in front of family, friends and even a favorite professor, North Carolina senior Gillian Litynski claimed the first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Sabre Championship Sunday afternoon at Carmichael Arena.
Her championship bout victory, 15-6 over Notre Dame’s Claudia Kulmacz, provided a fitting finale for UNC, which hosted the return of the ACC Fencing Championship after a 34-year hiatus. The men’s conference tournament on Saturday was the first since 1980, and Sunday’s competition was the first-ever ACC women’s championship. After claiming the team title in the morning, Notre Dame swept the other two individual competitions in the afternoon, with Litynski’s win the exception.
“That was simply amazing,” UNC coach Ron Miller said after watching his senior claim the title. “In the championship bout she was just on. It was one of those moments when an athlete gets in a zone – nobody was going to stop her.”
After trailing 8-5 in her semifinal bout against Notre Dame’s Jamie Norville, Litynski stormed back to win 15-11 and earn a spot in the final, with her fans and teammates celebrating every point. “It was loud, which is good, and it was loud on my side, which is great,” she said. “I definitely built off that energy. It’s hard in fencing to come back, so having crowd support really helps.
“I don’t think it’s my most impressive finish ever, but I think because it’s home I’m always going to remember it.”
Her parents, Susan and James, traveled in from Niskayuna, N.Y., for the first home contest of their daughter’s UNC career. Generally, the Tar Heels are on the road every weekend, so supporters took advantage of the rare opportunity to see collegiate fencing in Chapel Hill. In addition to plenty of friends in the crowd, one of Litynski’s nursing professors, Marsha Van Riper, came to watch. “She stayed for the long day,” Litynski said. “She was my longest fan other than my parents, so that was awesome.”
It was an extremely long day. The team competition began at 7 a.m., and Litynski finished her championship bout more than eight hours later. In the morning’s team competition, UNC went 1-2. The Tar Heels opened the day with a 14-13 loss to Duke. Next up was a 17-10 win over Boston College. Carolina then fell 24-3 to eventual-champion Notre Dame, which went 3-0 to claim the title. (The Fighting Irish also won the men’s title on Saturday.)
In the individual competition, each team fielded four fencers per weapon and the top four in each weapon advanced to the semifinals. “I knew I could do this but it was nerve-wracking because there are so many talented fencers here,” Litynski said. “I knew I had to be fencing my best if I wanted to do this.” Although she was the only Tar Heel to make the semis, she was quick to credit the support of her teammates and to share her accomplishment.
The championship was just the latest high mark in a successful career. A two-time All-America, the nursing/global studies double major was announced earlier in the week as a recipient of an ACC Postgraduate Scholarship in recognition of her academic success.
“She’s worked so hard all four years she’s been here,” Miller said.
After Sunday’s title, Litynski was looking forward to taking it easy for the evening. She planned to host dinner for her family, but as with her fencing, she’d already put in the hard work. “I prepared it yesterday, so I’m excited for that too – I can go home and be with family,” she said. On the menu: crepes, eggplant and other veggies. “I think it’s going to be good,” she said.
Those who watched her compete Sunday would expect nothing less.
Final Team Standings
1. Notre Dame (3-0)
2. Duke (2-1)
3. North Carolina (1-2)
4. Boston College (0-3)
Notre Dame def Boston College, 19-8 (S90/F81/E27)
Duke University def UNC Chapel Hill, 14-13 (S54/F54/E45)
Notre Dame def Duke University, 19-8 (S72/F72/E54)
UNC Chapel Hill def Boston College, 17-10 (S72/F63/E45)
Notre Dame def UNC Chapel Hill, 24-3 (S72/F90/E81)
Duke University def Boston College, 18-9 (S90/F54/E45)
Individual Results (top two earn All-ACC honors)
Gold – Gill Litynski, North Carolina
Silver – Claudia Kulmacz, Notre Dame
Bronze – Jamie Norville, Notre Dame
Gold – Lee Kiefer, Notre Dame
Silver – Nicole McKee, Notre Dame
Bronze – Madison Zeiss, Notre Dame
Gold – Nicole Ameli, Notre Dame
Silver – Ashley Severson, Notre Dame
Bronze – Olivia Adragna, Boston College
Lee Kiefer, Notre Dame
Published February 23, 2015.