With the Diamond Heels’ season ending this past weekend, the year in Carolina sports finally came to its official end. Starting with a NCAA sanctioned football season and ending in Omaha, there were highs and lows to this past year.
The fall started with the first year of new football coach Larry Fedora, and the young coach showed a lot of things that Carolina fans can be excited about. A high octane offense led the Heels to some of their highest point totals in years, and just about everyone will remember Gio Bernard’s punt return touchdown that ended the drought against rival NC State.
It wasn’t all success though. Porous defense allowed some long late touchdown drives by Wake Forest and Duke in Carolina road losses. It was Carolina’s first loss to Duke since 2003 and only the second loss since 1990. Also, despite scoring 50 points against Georgia Tech, the Heels lost by 18 in a 68-50 game that featured maybe the sloppiest defense Carolina’s seen in years. A final 8-4 record in the coach’s first season seems to be a success.
The biggest success of the fall sports was the women’s soccer team. Despite losing the most ACC games in program history, the team responded to win the National Championship. It was the 21st NCAA title for Carolina women’s soccer.
In winter sports the focus is normally on men’s basketball for most fans, and it was a more trying season than many expected at the onset. The Heels lost the majority of scoring, rebounding, and assists off of the previous year’s team, and the growing pains were obvious. Painful losses to Butler, Indiana, and Texas in the non conference schedule only magnified the losses.
Switching to a small ball lineup that featured sophomore PJ Hairston at the power forward spot changed the fortunes of the Heels. What looked like a lost season ended up with a third place conference finish. The Heels would lose in the ACC Tournament Championship Game to Miami and in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Kansas, but it was a fun team to watch grow.
Other winter teams included the women’s basketball team which mirror the men in losing in the ACC Tournament Championship Game and having a second round tournament loss. Sophomore wrestler Evan Henderson was UNC’s first All-American selection in the sport since 2005. He finished sixth in the country at his weight class.
Three spring sports showed their own excellence: men’s and women’s lacrosse as well as the baseball team.
The men’s lacrosse team captured their first conference title since 1996 by beating Duke and Virginia to win the conference tournament. Despite not being able to take home a national championship, winning a conference title for the first time in 17 years is quite an accomplishment.
The Carolina women’s lacrosse team did something the program never has; they won the National Championship. It took three overtimes, but eventually the Tar Heels scored the game winner to send home previously unbeaten Maryland. The game was a perfect drama filled contest to cap off an amazing season.
As mentioned before, the Heels didn’t win the baseball national title. They did make the College World Series for the sixth time in eight years, have the most wins in program history, and set several individual and team accolades. It wasn’t the ending that the team or fans wanted, but it was an incredibly exciting and fulfilling season that ended the year in Carolina sports appropriately.
The thing about college sports is that as soon as one season ends the other ends. There isn’t downtime, and the football team is already practicing and preparing for the season opener against South Carolina. As excited as the fans might be for that game, they should still take a second to enjoy the year that just ended.