Yes, folks, it’s that time of year, when college football season is a distant memory, the college basketball regular season is winding down, and the summer sports seasons have just kicked off. For a lot of people who aren’t Tar Heel fans, this time of year means one of two things: that in just a little over a month, they’ll have to take a break from college sports fandom, as the revenue sports are over and their school doesn’t do as well in some of the less visible sports, or that the time for college sports fandom is just kicking in, as their school doesn’t do all that well in revenue sports and does better in sports with less exposure.
It’s only a select few schools, though, that are at a high level of NCAA competition almost year-round, and we, as Tar Heel fans, are fortunate to support one of those schools. You can look at UNC at just about any time of the year, and some team will probably be in contention for postseason play, performing at near the highest level in the country, and this is really why Tar Heel fandom can make us so consistently happy.
I don’t mean to knock fans of other schools; by all means, take pride in whichever school/team you support. All I’m saying is that being a Tar Heel carries with it a certain pride, one that’s reflected throughout the year in a way that few other sports identities are.
The school year starts with football, of course, and while UNC isn’t one of the sport’s typical powerhouses, the team is still pretty good. In 2016, an win-win season and a berth to a bowl game that people have actually heard of was widely considered a disappointment. That’s a standard of excellence.
Couple that with numerous successful current NFL players (including Eric Ebron, Sylvester Williams, Giovani Bernard, and several others), and 7 to 9 potential NFL draft picks from this year’s team, including a potential top-2 pick in Mitch Trubisky, and it’s clear that UNC football, though it might not have the recent pedigree of the perennial top teams in the nation, is certainly a program that anybody would be proud to be represented by.
But if football’s not your thing, then worry not! This past fall, a whole host of UNC teams had successful seasons.
- Men’s soccer made it to the College Cup, the Final Four of collegiate soccer, in a journey that included an upset win over Syracuse and a heartbreaking loss in penalty kicks to the eventual champions, Stanford. The season was filled with thrills and excellent play. The team sent two players to the MLS through the 2017 SuperDraft, one of whom, Colton Storm, was a first-rounder.
- UNC Women’s Soccer has more titles than many universities, so not much more needs to be said about them. They haven’t been as dominant as they were in previous decades, but chalk that up to more and more young women growing up playing soccer. UNC isn’t the only destination for the sport anymore, and that’s something to be welcomed, not frowned upon. But it’s still pretty incredible that a down year for the program means being one of the top 4 programs in the country, because the UNC Women also made it to the college cup.
- Even a program that hasn’t been as historically good as those two had success this past fall, the program in question being women’s volleyball. Behind ACC Coach of the Year Joe Sagula, ACC Player of the Year Taylor Leath, and ACC Freshman of the Year Julia Scoles, the Heels put together one of the best seasons in program history, compiling a record 19 ACC wins and making it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before falling to UCLA.
And thus, the standard of excellence is set right from the beginning of the year. Some say it’s “just sports,” but I don’t buy that. Sports have contextualized some of the most momentous events in modern human history. You can’t talk about the Cold War without talking about the 1980 and 1984 Olympic boycotts. You can’t talk about World War II and Nazism without talking about Jesse Owens. You can’t talk about the Civil Rights era without talking about Jackie Robinson, and in college sports, that conversation often has to include UNC’s own Dean Smith.
Sports matter to people, and being good at them gives you the ability to affect social conversations and push for social progress. Take a look at this letter, signed by, among others, a UNC athlete. Sports are something we can and do rally behind in order to more easily understand the world around us, and it’s something that UNC has done and continues to do with its unique platform. Just another way that the University and its athletics continue to be a force for good.
Anyway, then, winter/spring rolls around, and around Chapel Hill, that primarily means one thing: Basketball. We have of course covered the men’s team extensively on this site, but 27 games in, they’ve only lost five games and are coming off an absolutely dominant performance against a top-15 team. In case I need to remind you, this is coming off of a year where the team went to the national championship, and under the cloud of NCAA shenanigans kind of like those that fans of a certain semi-rival school like to claim have single-handedly continued to hamstring their program for the past 25 years.
The women’s team isn’t doing as well as they might like to be this year, especially in conference play. Nevertheless, they have a win over ranked NCSU, and still have a coach in Sylvia Hatchell who has amassed nearly 1000 wins in the NCAA without being at one of the NCAA women’s basketball traditional powers. Even though the team isn’t excellent, Coach Hatchell gives us somebody there to look up to.
And now that the spring season is starting, even more Tar Heel teams are making their presences felt. The baseball team is ranked #13 to start the season, has a projected top-5 pick in JB Bukauskas, and started the season with two wins against a strong Kentucky team. Men’s lacrosse is ranked #2 in the nation and is currently 3-0. Women’s lacrosse is #1. Men’s tennis is #5, and women’s tennis is #2. It’s like a constant onslaught of greatness.
Seemingly every time I check on Tar Heel news, a new team is making positive headlines, and to be a part of that in my own small way is awe-inspiring. As a student at the University and as somebody who covers UNC sports, it’s a totally unique feeling to be able to look at my school and see it excel in so many different ways, and have so much potential material to write about. No matter the time of day or year, UNC always seems to have something to make us proud, both in sports and the larger context of the University, and because of that, it has always been, and will forever be, a Great Day to Be a Tar Heel.