BY MICHAEL KELLY
When Gill Litynski started fencing, an instructor took her aside and told her she had a natural gift for the sport.
Looking back Feb. 28 on the exchange with several years to think about it, Litynski said she realizes now that the coach was likely saying that to all the kids trying out the new sport.
“But, as a 12-year-old, I was like, ‘I got to keep doing this,’ ” she said, laughing.
As it turned out, though, that instructor roughly 10 years ago was correct — Litynski is a fantastic fencer. Competing Feb. 22 as a senior for the University of North Carolina, the Niskayuna High School graduate won the first-ever Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Sabre Championship with a 15-6 decision against Notre Dame’s Claudia Kulmacz. The victory set Litynski up to be a top seed — likely the No. 1 seed — at her regional championships, which begin March 7 at Duke University. From that competition, she could qualify for the national championships at Ohio State University.
“She’s qualified all three years in the past . . . for the NCAA finals, so I can’t say it’s a foregone conclusion she’d make it because anything can happen, but we certainly expect that to happen again for her,” said Ron Miller, Litynski’s head coach at North Carolina.
Litynski, 21, started fencing while in middle school as part of an after-school program. She had tried a bunch of sports without finding too much of a liking for any before she took to fencing. Her favorite aspect of the sport was the individual nature of it; while coaches in fencing may make suggestions to their athletes, fencers need to be able to constantly adjust their game plan midbout.
“A lot of times with other sports, your coach is the one coming up with the strategy,” said Litynski. “With fencing, it’s so individual — it’s just you versus your opponent — and you need to choose each step of the way. I love that strategy element.”
Good coaching, though, is a major reason why Litynski has been able to be successful with her fencing. Besides her coaches at North Carolina, Litynski credited Carolyn Lapham, her coach at the Beaches Sabre Club in Troy, for shaping her ability and technique.
“She’s really great and took me to the level I’m at today,” said Litynski, who competed in track and field at Niskayuna. “I owe her a lot.”
Growing up, she trained with Lapham a couple times a week for several hours each session at the club (which can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).
“Fencing’s a really great thing for kids to be involved in,” said Litynski, whose 17-year-old sister Jackie is a junior at Niskayuna and also fences.
Nowadays, Litynski practices for three hours a day and has multiple weight-training sessions each week while in school. She works her training around completing her degrees in nursing and global studies, and does it quite well; recently, she was awarded an ACC postgraduate scholarship in recognition of her academic success. She said she plans to continue her education at North Carolina, in pursuit of a doctorate.
At the upcoming regionals, Litynski likely only needs to win a couple matches to qualify for the national championships. Miller explained that seven athletes will make nationals from the Tar Heels’ region, and the selection of those seven is only partially based on results from regionals. Thus, as a projected top seed, Litynski likely does not need to win the tournament or even make it to the semifinals to qualify for nationals.
Of course, there’s a really good chance Litynski will still take home another title at regionals.
“Gill’s used to success,” Miller said.