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UNC Athletics: A year in review

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So many teams got close to glory in 2018-19.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Auburn vs North Carolina Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Diamond Heels’ elimination in the super regionals of the NCAA Baseball Tournament marked the end of the 2018-19 athletic year for UNC. While there will undoubtedly be stuff to cover over the summer, there are no more regular season sporting events until women’s soccer takes the field on August 22nd.

Things can still change based on what happens in the College World Series, but through Wednesday, UNC sits at 13th in the Learfield Directors Cup standings. That’s far from the best Carolina has done in that, but it’s also far from bad.

However, it could have been so much better. The 2018-19 athletic year for UNC seems to have a theme. So many teams were close to glory, but just not close enough. (With one big notable exception, which we’ll get to.)

Basketball, as always, was the big headline maker for the Tar Heels this year. It was mostly a really good year. UNC swept Duke in the regular season, shared the ACC regular season title, and was the #3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Based on how they looked down the stretch, it seemed like they had what it would take to go to the Final Four and possibly cut down the nets.

We all know what happened next. Auburn shot the lights out in the Sweet 16 as at least two Heels dealt with the flu. It was a frustrating way for an otherwise excellent season to end. We’ll never know if the Heels could have come out with a win had Cam Johnson and Nassir Little been healthy, but it would’ve been nice to find out.

While bigger stories have arisen from that program since, women’s basketball also ended in a inglorious manner. After starting off the season hovering around .500, the Tar Heels won eight of their last 13, including an upset of then #1 and eventual national runner-up Notre Dame, to make their first NCAA Tournament since 2015. They got a nine seed, which should signify a tight 8-9 opening round game, but instead they were dropped by Cal for a 20-point loss.

The most recent disappointing elimination was baseball. A hot streak down the stretch saw UNC win the ACC Tournament and get to host a regional as the #14 national seed. It hadn’t been one of the most impressive regular seasons in program history, but the way they had been playing, you could have seen them as a dark horse title contender.

They were then the beneficiaries of #3 Georgia Tech going out early, getting to host the super regional in Chapel Hill. After splitting the first two games, in the decisive third with a trip to Omaha on the line, Auburn dropped a 13-run first inning on the Heels, ending UNC’s season.

It was far from those three to have abrupt sad ends in the NCAA Tournament.

Women’s lacrosse lost in overtime to a Boston College who they had just beaten for the ACC Tournament title a few weeks prior.

Men’s soccer was upset by James Madison in the first game they played. Had they won that, they would have been the highest seed left in their bracket, and a possible favorite to go to the College Cup.

Women’s soccer did go to the College Cup, and made it to the national championship game, where they played Florida State. In a game played in nearby Cary, UNC lost by just one goal.

In softball, the Heels lost their first game, only to battle back all the way through the loser’s bracket, and beat Tennessee to force a decisive game against the Volunteers. A game away from their first ever trip to super regionals, they were shutout, losing 2-0.

Both tennis teams made their respective Final Fours. The women’s team lost in the semifinals to Stanford, who went on to beat Georgia for the national title. UNC’s only two losses on the season came to: Stanford and Georgia. The men’s team came within a set of going to the national championship, but couldn’t close the deal against Wake Forest.

Football fits that narrative even if their season couldn’t be described as good. They may have gone just 2-9, but five losses were within one possession, and two others were by 10 points. A couple things bounce different in just some of those games and UNC would have gone to a bowl. However, you can probably argue that the losses were for better considering the coaching change, improvement in recruiting, and general upturn in excitement around the program.

The one exception to this was the field hockey team. The Tar Heels went into the NCAA Tournament as the #1 seed and lived up to that, bringing home the national championship. They won all four of their games in the tournament by at least two goals. The title puts UNC two away from tying the all time record for field hockey national championships. It also marked the third straight calendar year for the school with a national championship in at least one sport.

A lot of the teams had excellent seasons and will have provided memorable moments for UNC fans. Despite others having great chances, just one of them provided the ultimate memorable moment in 2018-19. Congrats to all the teams, and good luck next season. Let’s just hope none of them have to play Auburn any time soon.