The 2016-17 athletic year was an extremely fruitful one for UNC as a whole.
Men’s basketball won the title, as you may have heard. Field hockey and men’s tennis were both national runners up. The two soccer teams made it to their tournaments’ final weekends. Baseball got the #2 overall national seed. Football made it to a pretty good bowl game. Both lacrosse teams, softball, and volleyball all qualified for their sports’ tournaments.
The year was an impressive one in many different sports. With that many different teams having good years, it arguably makes the short list of greatest years in athletic program history.
One way to compare across the years would be to look at the Director’s Cup standings. The Director’s Cup gives out points for high finishes in the tournaments and/or final polls in the various sports, which can help tell us what athletic program had the best year. North Carolina finished fifth in 2016-17, matching their highest finish in eight years. Stanford has won the award all but once. It just so happens that the other winner was UNC, back in 1993-94.
In 1993-94, women’s basketball won the national championship in an extremely memorable manner. Women’s soccer also won their title, the eighth straight of what would be nine in a row. Field hockey won the ACC and would go on to lose in double overtime in that national championship game. Men’s lacrosse won an ACC title. Football had a top 25 finish. That year’s men’s basketball might be famous for underachieving, but they still had a good season in the grand scheme of things. The success extended to individual sports with T.J. Jaworsky winning the second of three straight wrestling titles in his weight class.
In terms of total success, it shouldn’t matter what the two major revenue sports do. However, neither had a particularly great season, which might rule it out for some people, unfortunately. However, it’s hard to argue with winning the Director’s Cup, especially when it’s the only time Stanford hasn’t come away with it.
Since Stanford has taken over, the highest the Tar Heels have finished in a year is second. The most recent time that happened was in 2008-09.
That year also included a men’s basketball championship, of course. Women’s soccer won the national title that year as well. Women’s lacrosse fell to a Northwestern team in the championship game. Men’s soccer also came agonizingly close, losing in the title game. Baseball made it to Omaha. Softball, volleyball, men’s lacrosse, and women’s basketball all won at least one tournament game.
Despite a couple different games ending in devastating fashion, 2015-16 should be entered into the discussion. Both lacrosse teams won their titles in back-to-back-days. Men’s basketball made the title game. Football had its best season in nearly two decades and was in the playoff discussion into December. Field hockey lost in the national championship game. It’s not the official NCAA championship, but men’s tennis won the ITA indoor championships.
Tar Heel fans are also lucky, because those aren’t even the only years that could be written further about. They had other second place Director’s Cup finishes in 1994-95, 96-97, and 97-98. They were carried by championships in women’s soccer and field hockey in a lot of those years. Beyond that there are several other years where a team or individual brought home a national championship.
In terms of pure results, it’s hard to put 2016-17 as the best year in Tar Heel sports history. However, it’s in the conversation. UNC has a rich athletic history in a lot of sports. There will probably be another year like this past one at some point. Just don’t take for granted all the success we saw last season.
Where would you put 2016-17 all-time? Are there any other years that deserve a mention?