Happy New Year to all! Now that “Auld Lang Syne” has been sung, the wrapping paper finally cleared away, and 2019 is in the rearview mirror, let’s look to the future. 2019 was a fantastic year for Tar Heels sports, but 2020 promises to be special as well. Here are five things that we can look forward to in the New Year:
A Darn Good, Maybe Even Great, Football Season
Mack Brown’s impact on UNC’s program in just one season has been enormous, not merely in terms of win-loss record and recruiting, but also mentality and national profile. The Heels enjoyed an exciting bounce-back year that ended 7-6 with a decisive victory in the Military Bowl. But next season could be even more special.
Sam Howell had an historic freshman season at QB and will be one of the players to watch in all of college football next year. His terrific arsenal of playmakers this season included Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, both of whom cracked 1,000 yards receiving, and Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, with Carter gaining over 1,000 yards on the ground. All five are eligible to return; Howell is a freshman and Brown and Williams are sophomores, and if both Carter and Newsome stay, this could be one of the most skilled attacks in America. Up front, the Tar Heels will be without senior Charlie Heck, Howell’s blindside tackle, but the rest of the line returns and are reinforced by several incoming recruits.
On defense, there are more notable departures, in particular Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford up front and Myles Dorn at safety, but the Heels return Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel at linebacker, Tomon Fox as an edge rusher, and much of the secondary. But the frontline, especially the pass rush, will be receiving some big time help with the incoming frosh, especially defensive end Desmond Evans, who comes in as one of the highest profile recruits in UNC history. If the new blood can make an impact right away, this UNC team stands a very good chance of winning the Coastal Division.
Basketball’s New Recruits Make For A Deep, Talented Roster in 2020-21
This is not to disrespect our current roster in any way shape or form, but the 2019-20 campaign is in the process of playing out and this is about looking at the future, not at the developing present. That said, best wishes to Anthony Harris, who deserves a speedy recovery and a continued impact in the new year, and here’s hoping Cole Anthony will see the floor again for UNC in the near future. This team ain’t done yet.
The 2020-21 squad looks to be very promising, with one of the best Tar Heel recruiting classes in recent memory making its way to Chapel Hill. Next year’s UNC squad will have its front line bolstered by 5-star recruits Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe, who will join Garrison Brooks and (most likely) Armando Bacot up front. Five-star PG Caleb Love will supplement, or maybe even lead, the backcourt which has struggled with depth and playmaking at times this year, as will combo guard R.J. Davis, with small forward Puff Johnson rounding out a very exciting five-man class. Expect next year’s squad to be both deep and talented...and hopefully more effective shooting the ball.
A Bonus Point: Roy Williams is on track to surpass Bob Knight as third on the all-time wins list in 2020. He currently sits at 879 wins, while Knight has 902.
Field Hockey Tries To Three-Peat. Also Erin Bleeping Matson.
Karen Shelton’s Tar Heels wrapped up a second consecutive undefeated season in November with a dominant 6-1 victory over Princeton in the title game. In doing so, they cemented their place as one of the greatest teams in UNC history and brought home an eighth trophy to Chapel Hill. Next year, they will go for an historic three-peat.
The Heels were a senior-heavy team in 2019: Five of their regular starters will graduate in the Spring. But in 2020 they will be led once again by Erin Matson, who was just named National Player of the Year for her brilliant sophomore campaign. Matson, the National Freshman of the Year in 2018, led the nation in goals and points in 2019 and has already established herself as a Tar Heel legend. When all is said and done, she could finish her Tar Heel career as one of the greatest field hockey players ever.
UNC will begin next season riding a 46-game win streak, an ACC record. Winning a third consecutive title figures to be an immense challenge, but who would possibly bet against them?
Women’s Soccer Looks To Get Over the Hump
It still hurts. UNC’s fantastic 2019 season ended in heartbreaking fashion for the second year in a row. Anson Dorrance’s side fell to Stanford via penalty shootout in the National Championship Game. Carolina went 24-1-2 and finished undefeated in the ACC, winning both the Regular Season and ACC Tournament Titles. For the second consecutive year, UNC made the title game despite the absence of one of their best players: In 2018, Alessia Russo was sidelined by injury; in 2019 it was Hermann Trophy Finalist Emily Fox.
The good news is that UNC will return both Russo AND Fox in 2020, along with a host of contributors from last year’s team, including high-scoring Brianna Pinto, defenders Maycee Ball and Lotte Wubben-Moy, playmakers Rachel Jones and Taylor Otto, and goalkeeper Claudia Dickey (who was terrific in the title game). As is always the case, the Heels will be deep, talented, and tough to beat. They were hungry in 2019, in 2020 they’ll be damn near starving.
Baseball Looks To Take the Next Step
Football and Women’s Soccer have an awful lot of talent returning, but the team with the most intact roster from last year might well be on the baseball diamond. Last year’s team went 46-19 overall and won the ACC Championship for the first time since 2013. They eventually fell to Auburn in the Super Regional Final in Chapel Hill.
Last year’s team was led by a wave of young talent, especially freshman Aaron Sabato, who was named to the NCAA’s All-Freshman Team as a DH and won ACC Freshman of the Year. He, along with fellow sophomore Danny Serretti and returning hitters like Dylan Harris, figure to bring a lot of firepower to the batter’s box for Carolina in 2020 despite some big departures like Michael Busch, Ike Freeman, and Brandon Martorano.
On the mound, UNC will return top contributors Luca Dalatri, Austin Love, and Joey Lancellotti. This Tar Heel team will begin the season on February 14th against Middle Tennessee. They are ranked at #13 in the Preseason AP Poll.