UNC opens the 2019-20 sports year this week, and football kicks off their season next weekend. We’re already consumed by so much unknown going into this year, from trying to figure out how the football team will compete, to how so many newcomers will blend in on a basketball team that has its best recruit in years.
I thought before this year starts, it’s worth taking one last look at the past one to pick out those moments I truly enjoyed. The great thing about being a fan of this school is that different moments across different sports will resonate for each person in a different way. Thus, your list may be different. For me, these five were the moments I’ll remember.
#5-UNC Field Hockey Wins Another National Title
University of National Champions. What’s remarkable about the athletic program at Carolina isn’t just the big sports, but the consistent excellence of the entire athletic department. Karen Shelton has been the coach at UNC since 1981 and has led her squad to seven national titles. The one earned in 2018, though, was their first since 2009 and was made even sweeter by the fact that the Tar Heels christened a new stadium exclusive to field hockey during the season. The stadium is rightfully named after Shelton, and she did nothing but add to her legacy last year. Shelton deserves praise as one of the best coaches in Carolina history, and seeing her team celebrate another title just reinforced it.
#4 Mack Brown Hired As Carolina Coach
There was a real cloud hanging over the football program, like one of those summer afternoon thunderstorm clouds that come at you from nowhere. After the highs of the 2015 season, and the joy of watching Mitch Trubisky lead the team in 2016, the football program sank into the abyss for two years straight. It says something about how horrid the 2018 season was that the most memorable part was the hiring of the coach who last wore Carolina Blue in 1997.
Many alumni, including yours truly, weren’t thrilled at the initial hire. Brown, however, got to work immediately by reconnecting with high school coaches across the state, and hiring some of the most exciting coaches to be his coordinators. As word of his strong 2020 recruiting was already coming out, I realized I had hope for the first time in a while. Since then, it’s grown. The 2019 Tar Heels could be 3-9 or 8-4, but Mack has given fans reason to look forward to the season either way. That alone is worth remembering.
#3 UNC Baseball Wins the ACC
After a trip to Omaha in the 2018 season, hopes were high for the Tar Heels going into 2019 with a lot of talent returning, and a future star in Aaron Sabato. They underwhelmed as the season played out, though, and headed into the conference tournament falling flat against NC State at home. Not much was expected, as the Tar Heels needed a strong performance just to even have the chance to host a regional the next weekend.
The team answered by sweeping all of their games, and crushed the eventual national three seed Georgia Tech 10-2 in the title game. It started an amazing run for them that saw ended at the Super Regionals. It also made fans hold their breath every time Sabato came to bat. It was a real joy to watch, and a reminder that the baseball team should be good for years to come.
#2 Coby White versus Miami
We loved Coby White. He came into the basketball season having earned the starting point guard spot from Seventh Woods, and people didn’t know what to expect from the freshman. After he exploded in Las Vegas, it became clear that Carolina had a real star on its hands.
To me, this game really personified the joy that was watching Coby White play basketball for this team. The Tar Heels were struggling in the second half, and Coby just took over. I broke it down the next day, pointing out that he was responsible for four threes out of the six baskets scored down the stretch. He was so hot that on the basket that sent the game to overtime, Miami left Luke Maye open. You know, the same guy who hit that shot against Kentucky? Maye hit the shot like he did in 2017, and Carolina would go on to win the game, setting the stage for a great regular season and eventual number one seed.
Beyond that, though, was just watching how Coby celebrated down the stretch. Watch those highlights and look at the photo at the top of this piece. He wasn’t just responsible for the win, he was soaking it in, celebrating, and enjoying the moment. He was both a player and a fan, and it sealed how Carolina fans would view him forever. Chicago got someone special this year, and I hope he gets to show that same joy in the NBA.
#1 UNC Basketball Beats Boston College
So why does a relatively meaningless win over a perennial underachieving Eagles squad rate as my top memory from last year? Well, it’s not so much the game, but the circumstances around the game for me.
If you’ve followed along on Twitter, then you probably are aware that the last school year also was one where I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. My chemo occurred during the football season (which is another reason I’d rather not remember last year’s performance), and the radiation occurred during the back part of the basketball season. I’m currently living in Boston, and my wife surprised me at Christmas with tickets to this game. That alone was wonderful, but what I didn’t know was that she had coordinated this gift with two amazing friends, Tony and Neil, and they had made arrangements to fly up to Boston and attend the game with us. Even more amazing was that Tony would be coming from North Carolina, Neil from Arkansas, and they had managed to coordinate their flights to arrive around the same time.
On the day of the game, I received my radiation treatment in the morning as I had for the past five weeks, then went to the office for work. I rushed home so that we could get a bite to eat before walking to the arena, and opened the door to find my wife sitting on the couch with Tony and Neil. I was...surprised.
The game itself was like being back in college, with me able to just completely blabber on about the game with two other fanatics beside me like I was still in band. The fact that so many other Carolina fans were there was just the icing on top, and then to put the cherry on top of that, we were able to get a quick word with 1993 National Champion Eric Montross
To cap it off, we stayed after and I got to shake Eric Montross’ hand, thank him for what he’s done for Carolina, and got a picture. pic.twitter.com/J6vukcmFbX— Al Hood (@albhood) March 6, 2019
I’m now officially in remission, albeit one organ lighter with the removal of my large intestine. In June, I flew to Chapel Hill to attend the wedding of Tony (on the left), and was also there with Neil (behind me). These two along with my wife were huge in getting me through the treatment and eventual surgery in May. It is, bar none, the most memorable part of the 2018-19 UNC sports year for me.
Disagree with this list? Have different memories? Use the comments to discuss!