UNC Coach Very Proud of Tar Heels Winning World Cup

Six former UNC Women’s Soccer stars are now World Cup champions after the Team USA victory over Japan on Sunday. UNC coach Anson Dorrance reflected with WCHL’s Blake Hodge on watching the former Tar Heels win it all.


Reacting to Governor McCrory's Higher Education Remarks

It was as if aliens had attacked and taken over the state’s university system. At least that is how upset my university friends and faculty reacted to Governor Pat McCrory’s remarks about higher education. He said, “I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs…I’m going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt.”

McCrory promised to base the financing of universities on “how many jobs you are getting people into.”

University voices, joined with newspapers opinion pieces in a collective, “What?!”

“Doesn’t he get it?” they asked. “A university education cannot just prepare its students for their first job, it has to try to prepare them for a lifetime of changing work and challenges.”

It has been easy enough to throw stones at the governor for seeming to ignore the critical main point of higher education.

But criticizing the governor misses two important facts.

First, the governor is speaking for many citizens of North Carolina who do not automatically see the lifetime value of a university education. When their university-educated children do not have a set of skills that guarantees them a good job, they are nodding their heads when they hear the governor’s words.

We have to acknowledge that it is fair for the paying public to ask its universities, not only to prepare for a lifetime, but also to pay attention to the students’ needs for good employment options the day a degree is granted.

Secondly, by concentrating on our governor’s recent remarks, we avoid a more disturbing list of challenges and criticisms summarized recently by the new president of Purdue University, former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels:

“College costs too much and delivers too little. Students are leaving, when they graduate at all, with loads of debt but without evidence that they grew much in either knowledge or critical thinking.

“Administrative costs, splurging on ’resort’ amenities, and an obsession with expensive capital projects have run up the cost to students without enhancing the value of the education they receive.

“Rigor has weakened. Grade inflation has drained the meaning from grade point averages and left the diploma in many cases as merely a surrogate marker for the intelligence required to gain admission in the first place.

“The system lacks accountability for results. No one can tell if one school is performing any better than another.

“The mission of undergraduate instruction is increasingly subordinated to research and to work with graduate students.

“Too many professors are spending too much time ‘writing papers for each other,’ researching abstruse topics of no real utility and no real incremental contribution to human knowledge or understanding.

“Diversity is prized except in the most important realm of all, diversity of thought. The academies that, through the unique system of tenure, once enshrined freedom of opinion and inquiry now frequently are home to the narrowest sort of closed-mindedness and the worst repression of dissident ideas.

“Athletics, particularly in NCAA Division I, is out of control both financially and as a priority of university attention.”

Daniels acknowledges that these critiques may not all be fair. But, he says that the operating model of “most American universities is antiquated and soon to be displaced.”

Those of us who love and value our public universities have a lot more to worry about than our governor’s off-script remarks.

The best way for the universities to respond to McCrory and to Daniels is to take the lead in making the changes the needs of the public and the students require.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage.

This week’s (February 10) guest is James Dodson, author of “American Triumvirate Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf.” “American Triumvirate Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf” by James Dodson, is the only North Carolina-related non-fiction book to make last year’s New York Times “100 Notable Books” list. Dodson lives in North Carolina’s golf country where he is writer-in-residence at The Pilot and editor of “PineStraw” magazine in Southern Pines. But he has a professional lifetime of golf writing experience that helped make his latest book a classic. Snead, Nelson, and Hogan, all born in 1912, dominated professional golf in the years surrounding World War II. Dodson says the three are responsible for the popular professional golf game that we know today.

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch.

Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4).

This week’s (February 13) guest is Anson Dorrance, author of “The Vision of a Champion.”


Abuzz About Basketball?

It’s not unusual for Chapel Hill to be abuzz this time of year over several local sports teams. It is, however, weird that Carolina Basketball is not one of them.

UNC field hockey played for yet another national championship two weeks ago, losing to Princeton 3-2. The Tar Heel men’s soccer team is a solid favorite over 16-seed Indiana tonight on Fetzer Field at 6 p.m. (on WCHL) to reach the College Cup and try to defend its 2011 NCAA championship. The women’s team is already in the soccer Final Four, facing top-seed Stanford in San Diego later tonight (on ESPNU) for a chance to play for UNC’s and Coach Anson Dorrance’s 22nd national championship Sunday afternoon.

And Carrboro High School football, the modern-day version of Remember the Titans, has this town atwitter (even if you don’t tweet). The Jaguars, 15-0, are more like the Mighty Mites with only 28 players on the varsity roster, many going both ways for Coach Jason Tudryn’s tough guys. They’ll try to complete their dream season Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh over South Iredell to win the state 2AA championship. And, remember, Carrboro High has been around only seven years and lost like its first 20 games.

Usually in late November, the big story on the back burner is Carolina Basketball, which has carved up several turkeys on the early season schedule and posted a notable win or two. So far the Tar Heels are 5-2, heading into Saturday night’s home game against UAB, coached by Roy Williams’ former player and long-time assistant Jerod Haase. But after their heroes were blown out by Butler in the first half in Maui and at Indiana in the second half, Tar Heel fans at best are taking a wait-and-see attitude about their 2012-13 team.

Unlike local rivals Duke, which has vaulted to 7-0 and No. 2 in the country behind three senior starters and one great freshman, and N.C. State, which has lots of talent if not toughness at this point of the season, Carolina lacks both leadership and a leathery attitude on the court. Not to mention a low-post game and outside scoring. The Tar Heels are looking far more like the 2010 NIT team than the 2006 surprise, both of which followed national championship clubs that lost most of their scoring, rebounding and passing to graduation and/or early NBA departures.

It’s not like we expected less. More than 50 years of unrealistic expectations around here makes anyone who puts on that light blue and white uniform look good – until they look otherwise on the court. And this team has more problems than either of the aforementioned leftovers. So far, it cannot score much from inside, settling for lower-percentage jump shots, and is guilty of the worst outside shot selection I can remember of any Williams team.  

While the overall stat sheet is respectable, the box scores from the two losses are more telling. In the first half against Butler, when Carolina fell behind by 29 points, the Heels shot 32 percent; in the second half at Indiana, when they missed 17 of their first 18 attempts, they wound up shooting 28 percent. In both games, Carolina had more turnovers than assists, a sure sign that something is amiss. “Good kids trying to do too much,” Williams offers.

Maybe his 10th Tar Heel team can get healthier and happier over the six-game stretch (five at home) heading into ACC play on January 6 at Virginia. After the UAB Blazers (4-3) come East Tennessee (1-3); undefeated but untested East Carolina (5-0) coached by former UNC star Jeff Lebo; a trip to Texas, which is 4-2 but lost to the two teams (Mississippi State and Chaminade) that Carolina blew out in Maui; McNeese State (2-3) and a rematch with UNLV (4-1), which dealt then-undefeated and top-ranked Carolina its first loss last season in Las Vegas.

Of concern is sophomore P.J. Hairston, who missed the Indiana game with a sprained knee and is uncertain for the immediate future. Although Hairston shot only 24 percent from 3-point range last year, he is off to a better start this season, shooting higher percentages from near and far and putting up better numbers in the clutch. He also gives Williams the best option in the small lineup that forged a nice comeback against Butler and helped pull away from Long Beach State on the way to Maui. Otherwise, Roy goes with green freshman J.P. Tokoto.
While Marcus Paige looks like he will develop into a nice point guard, who can score more than departed Kendall Marshall, his wing men have to get their roles down better.  Senior leader Dexter Strickland is a great defender and absolute blur on the break, but he is not an outside jump-shooter. He has missed 7 of his 8 three-point attempts, otherwise is shooting close to 50 percent. And junior Reggie Bullock IS the outside scorer who has to, well, score more from outside. So far, Bullock is hitting 47 percent of his 3s but is 2-for-9 in the two losses against better defenses. He’s also nursing a sore right (shooting) hand from the IU game.
Inside scoring may be the unfixable problem, at least for this season until big Joel James and smooth Brice Johnson mature and recruiting reinforcements arrive next fall. Sophomore Desmond Hubert is getting the start at center but has taken only seven shots and missed all seven of his free throws. Obviously, he’s not in there at the end. And James Michael McAdoo, though more talented, could be facing the same problems that befell Deon Thompson in 2010 after losing his NBA drafted teammates. Getting all the attention in the post as opposed to the fifth scoring option means having to elevate your game and aggressiveness. Thompson could not make the conversion from role player. So far, McAdoo runs the floor and shoots the face up far better than putting his butt to the basket and making a spin or power move.

“Check with me in 60 days,” Williams said before the embarrassment at Indiana. That takes us near the end of January and deep into ACC play. Former coach Bill Guthridge used to say, “If you don’t have it together by February, you probably aren’t getting it together.”

So there is time. But it looks like the learning curve is longer than the Chapel Hill cheering section is used to.


Band of Three Seeks to Lead UNC to Soccer Title

Most women’s college soccer teams deploy a back line of four defenders, sometimes even five.  Not UNC.  There may be safety in numbers but, as far as Carolina is concerned, there are no national championships.  So as the Tar Heels (10-5-2) seek a 21st NCAA title beginning with today’s opening round game against Radford (14-2-4) in the 64-team tournament, UNC will once again try to stop opponents from scoring with just a defensive trio rather than a quartet.

“If we are going to win it all, it’s going to be withthree in the back,” sophomore defender Satara Murray said before a recent practice. 

But of late, winning it all has gone from automatic to problematic for the Heels.  After back-to-back championships in 2008 and 2009, UNC has failed to advance even to a regional final either of the past two seasons.

Carolina’s NCAA ouster in 2010 was particularly humbling: a 4-1 loss to Notre Dame in Chapel Hill. That third round beat down, coupled with head coach Anson Dorrance’s appreciation for the success the French national team had during the 2011 women’s World Cup using a 4-2-3-1 formation, led UNC to rely on a fourth defender for much of last season.

The switch was an acknowledgement that Carolina no longer seemed capable of dominating opponents by relying on superior-skilled and better-conditioned players.  A growing number of teams across the ACC and nation now field squads with passing prowess sufficient to withstand UNC’s pressure and strikers capable of finishing when a ball is played through UNC’s back line.  And since the graduation of standout goalie Ashlyn Harris in 2009, Carolina has lacked a shutdown keeper able to compensate consistently for defensive lapses.

But after managing only one win in a four game stretch late last season, Dorrance and his second-in-command Bill Palladino had second thoughts about their decision to add a fourth defender. The upside of playing just three in the back – more opportunity for pressure, possession, and scoring thanks to an additional striker – proved too great to resist and Carolina returned to only three defenders for its NCAA run.  With Meg Morris, Megan Brigman, and Caitlin Ball anchoring the back line, UNC gave up only one goal over the course of 110 minutes (regulation plus two overtimes) in its Sweet Sixteen matchup against the University of Central Florida.  Carolina ultimately lost to UCF on penalty kicks.

UNC entered this season re-committed to its high-risk, high-reward formation but a bane of soccer – leg injuries – quickly posed a new challenge.  Brigman suffered a season-ending bone fracture four minutes into Carolina’s opening game, a 1-0 loss to Portland.  Four matches later, Ball endured a severe ankle sprain that sidelined her for multiple games.  With Morris moved up to midfield to provide offensive punch while several Carolina strikers missed games due to U20 and U17 national team duties, Carolina needed a brand new backline.

Replacements came from nearby, but still unexpected, places.  Tabbed for the left side was freshman Hanna Gardner, an East Chapel Hill High School graduate who came to Carolina without a scholarship.  The gangly Gardner has proved a natural, earning ACC All-Freshman Team honors despite never playing in a three-back system before. 

She admits the learning curve has been steep. “Dino [Bill Palladino] lectures me constantly,” said Gardner.  “I’ve been watching a lot of video trying to get it right.”

As for the pivotal center back role, Dorrance and “Dino” turned to an all-world talent: Crystal Dunn.  Along with teammate Kealia Ohai, Dunn spent part of the fall leading the U.S. Women’s U20 team to a World Cup title.  Although she tallied nine goals her freshman year and is still listed as a forward in the team’s media guide, the now junior from Rockville Center, New York is arguably the best defender in league history.  Last week, Dunn was named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year becoming the first woman to win the award twice.
At right back is Satara Murray who hails from the Lone Star State’s capital, leads the team in minutes played (1508), and is the only one of the three backs trained exclusively as a defender during her pre-Carolina youth soccer days.

Standing behind Murray, Dunn and Gardner is goalkeeper Adelaide Gay who transferred to UNC from Yale. While many college-level goalies now top out at or near six feet, the 5’6 Gay can be hard to spot when offensive and defensive players collapse around a ball in the Tar Heels’ box.  In what’s become a well-publicized dis thanks to ESPN, Gay was discouraged from coming to Carolina by Dorrance who told her: “Don’t come; you’re never going to play.”  In 34 years at the helm, UNC’s coach has rarely been more wrong.  This season Gay has established herself as the team’s No. 1 keeper, played over 1,000 minutes, and posted a respectable 0.59 goals against per game average.

Defensive mastermind Palladino sees his back unit as a group of equals operating as one.  But Gay, Gardner and Murray all say that Dunn is in charge.  Dunn pleads guilty. “I’m a dominant personality, and I’m very comfortable talking.”

Overall, the Dunn-led defense has been strong giving up only 12 goals all season.  But with Carolina’s offense at times sputtering – the Heels have scored one goal or none on eight occasions – any defensive lapse can be a game-changer.  Or, in the one-loss-and-done NCAA tournament, a season-ender.  And even Dunn, while winning countless 1v1 duels against such elite strikers as Florida State’s Tiffany McCarty and Wake Forest’s Katie Stengel, has been beat.  “It’s discouraging to get scored on,” said Dunn reflecting on the battles she’s lost.  “But that’s soccer.”

As Carolina’s quest for an almost incomprehensible 21st crown begins (the Fighting Irish are second in NCAA titles with three), the defensive unit that will try to lead the team from behind lends itself to labeling in “Breakfast Club” terms.  A walk on. A talker. A Texan.  All fronting a goalie who, like Rodney Dangerfield, can’t get any respect. 

Head coach Dorrance is known for his use of famous lines to urge on his squad.  The NCAA final will be played December 2 in San Diego. Should Carolina find itself there, Dorrance – or better yet the loquacious Dunn – could seek to inspire UNC’s outnumbered back line with a Shakespearean exhortation (albeit one updated to reflect women on a soccer field rather than men on a battlefield): We wish not one woman more for it would lessen the share of honor.  We few, we happy few, we band of sisters. 

UNC’s Band of Three, plus their teammates, start their NCAA tournament play at Fetzer Field at 5 p.m.

(A version of this article appears in the News & Observer)


Let's Fill Up Fetzer

250 out of 5,000: That is how many Fetzer Field seats were filled the last time Florida State played UNC in women’s soccer in Chapel Hill.  The lack of fan support was a disappointment and may have contributed to the disappointing final score: Florida State 2 – UNC 1.

Fast forward eleven months to this Thursday (9/27) at 7 p.m.  The Seminoles are coming back to town sporting a perfect 9-0 record and a #1 ranking.  I think it’s the most important game in the most important season in UNC’s recent history, and I’m calling on Tar Heel fans across the Triangle to show up and fill up every available seat at Fetzer.
The game itself should be a great one.  Soccer matches feature eleven players a side but UNC v. FSU could be determined by an incredible 1v1 matchup:  Florida State’s amazing striker Tiffany McCarty against Crystal Dunn, Carolina’s incomparable defender.  Dunn has the gift of talent along with the asset UNC head coach Anson Dorrance prizes most: the gift of fury.  She was spectacular in UNC’s 3-1 win last week over then #6 Virginia Tech.
Just like the ‘Noles, the Hokies came into Fetzer undefeated.  914 fans watched Va Tech go home with their first loss of the season.  I’m counting (literally!) on 5,000 Tar Heel faithful to be on hand this Thursday night to see (hopefully) a similar outcome.  The last time UNC played a #1 ranked team at home was August 2011.  The opponent: Notre Dame.  The result: 2-1 Heels (in an overtime thriller).  The number of fans on hand: 5,236. 

I rest my case.

Life…The Ultimate Gift

Jason Ray was full of life. This was evident as his amazing energy transformed a simple costume into a jumping, pumping, running Rameses that made Carolina crowds cheer, wave, and shout.  But Jason’s life was cut short when he died in a hit-and-run accident while at the NCAA Basketball Regionals in March 2007.  That did not stop Jason, though, from accomplishing his goal of sharing his energy, his optimism, and his love of life with others.  Jason was an organ donor.

Jason’s organs have helped over 50 people with the gift of life.  Jason’s friends, family, and UNC fans know, though, that Jason would have wanted to do more.  So they are working to raise over $1 million for the UNC Center for Transplant Care.     Donations will be used to benefit patients who have undergone solid organ transplantation at UNC Hospitals.  When the $1 million goal is reached, the Clinic at the Center for Transplant Care will be renamed in Jason’s honor.

You can help. This Sunday (April 29th), the Jason Ray Foundation is hosting a fundraising brunch and auction at The Carolina Club, featuring terrific food, music by The Clef Hangers, UNC Cheerleaders, emcee Ron Stutts and, of course, Rameses. 

The keynote speaker for the event is UNC Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance.  Jason’s parents, as well as Dale Folwell, Speaker Pro Tempore of the North Carolina House of Representatives, also will speak at the event.  Rep. Folwell sponsored NC House Bill 1372, The Heart Prevails Act, which allows an individual to indicate on his/her driver’s license that he/she is an organ donor. Rep. Folwell and his wife lost their seven-year-old son, Dalton, in 1999 and allowed him to be an organ donor.

Reading about Jason, and how he touched people during his short life, is inspirational.  Here is an excerpt from the Jason Ray Foundation’s website:

Jason was in many ways larger than life.  Not only was he 6’5” with a personality to match, he was dedicated to helping others.  When he was 13 he went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico, followed by Haiti and Honduras, to help at orphanages. By the time he was 21, he’d been on three mission trips and was dedicated to helping those less fortunate.  He loved life and he loved his family and friends.  You could feel it when you were around him.

When Jason got his driver’s license, he checked the box to be an organ donor.  When he went home, he told his mom that he wanted to help others in case something ever happened to him.  When that terrible event happened, his family knew his wishes and honored them by donating Jason’s organs and tissues to The Sharing Network of New Jersey.

NC Men’s Basketball Coach Roy Williams has added his voice to the chorus of Jason’s admirers, saying in a recent video promoting the foundation’s $1 million goal, “I hope everyone will be able to be involved and help . . . . Together, we are Carolina.”

Tickets for the brunch ($100 per person) can be purchased by contacting Kimberly James, Jason Ray Foundation Development Officer, at 919-428-8538.  Those who would like to give but are unable to attend the brunch may make a donation to the Foundation at http://jasonray.org/.


Big Game. Big, Big, Big Game.

UNC and Duke have played each other 36 times in women’s soccer.  The most important regular season match ever will be the one they play on Thursday night at Fetzer Field.  Here’s why….For decades, the outcome wasn’t in doubt (UNC would win) nor the principal reason for the result (superior talent).   Both “givens” are no longer guaranteed.    

If Thursday’s game was at a neutral field, UNC would be the underdog.  Duke is ranked #3 in the nation (the Heels are #10), has four superlative scorers (Kelly Cobb, Kaitlyn Kerr, Laura Weinberg, and Mollie Pathman), and a standout goalie (Tara Campbell, who notched her tenth shutout of the season last week in a 1-0 road victory over #5 Boston College).  
Now, if 5,000 plus Carolina supporters show up – as they did for UNC’s stellar 2-1 overtime win against Notre Dame – the Heels may pull out a win thanks to the energy home crowds can create.  And Carolina, of course, is not without weapons: the most versatile player on the field will be clad in light blue (Crystal Dunn), as will the fastest (Meg Morris), and the most aggressive offensive threats (Courtney Jones and Kealia Ohai).   And while Duke has a strong coaching staff (led by Robbie Church and former Carolina standout Carla Overbeck), UNC has the architect of the greatest college sports dynasty in America (Anson Dorrance, who has coached Carolina to the national title 21 times).
UNC soccer’s stellar communications director Dave Lohse aptly called last season’s game, which Carolina won 5-3, a “barnburner”.  With the teams returning to Chapel Hill for the 2011 edition of the rivalry, I think the final score could very well be 2-1 as has been the case with all four games played at Fetzer since 2004.  I don’t know who will be on top but, if its the Blue Devils, it won’t be an upset.  
One thing I’m certain of is that the only way to follow the game if you are not there in person (which you should be!) is to tune into WCHL’s live broadcast at 7 p.m. on 1360AM or www.chapelboro.com.
In the meantime, let me know who you think is going to win and why in the comment section below.


When it comes to winning international team sport competitions, Dean Smith unveiled the secret 35 years ago: Tarheels, lots of Tarheels. It is a strategy for success I wish the US Women’s National Soccer Team — with only two UNC alums on its 21 player roster — was utilizing in the 2011 World Cup that begins this week in Germany.

Back in 1976, Smith coached the US Men’s National Basketball Team at the Montreal Olympics in addition to overseeing the Tarheels. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s referee-aided upset of the Americans four years before, the pressure on Smith to produce a gold medal winning team was intense. When the twelve player squad he assembled included four UNC players — Walter Davis, Phil Ford, Mitch Kupchak and Tommy LaGarde — some sportswriters howled. When the team avenged the ’72 Olympic loss with a perfect 7-0 record and a gold medal, the critics were silenced.

Fast forward to today. As US women’s soccer coach Pia Sundhage made her last roster cuts, she had available at least ten UNC players with the requisite talent to compete effectively against any national team in the world. Unlike Smith, Sundhage decided not to stack her team with players who knew each other’s game.
(Indeed, Smith’s ’76 team also included three ACC players — Duke’s Tates Armstrong, State’s Kenny Carr, and Maryland’s Steve Sheppard — whose skills and styles his Heels knew well, plus two Indiana University teammates — Scott May and Quinn Buckner.) Only three Tarheels made the final team and one of them, Lindsay Tarpley, was lost quickly due to injury. While Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath should play magnificiently together, two soccer players cannot determine the impact of an 11 on 11 game.

Of course, Dean’s Carolina blue-hued “Dream Team” isn’t the only example of national teams loaded with players intimately familiar with each other as athletes succeeding. Guess what the best outcome predictor was in last year’s men’s World Cup? The national team with more players from the same club soccer team won nearly every single match. This included the title game won by Spain and led by seven players from the famed Barcelona club team.

Whatever happens in this year’s World Cup, here is my advice to the US National Team powers that be for 2015: convince UNC coach Anson Dorrance (who coached America to victory in the 1991 Women’s World Cup) to lead the US team and let him put on as many Tarheels as he wants (including current UNC players such Crystal Dunn, Courtney Jones, Meg Morris and Kealia Ohai). Coach Smith would be proud.


A Baseball School?

About 20 years ago, when Dean Smith had caught his second wind and was again dominating the ACC and college basketball toward the end of his coaching career, he was asked about his sport overshadowing all others at UNC.

“A basketball school?” Smith mused. “We’re a women’s soccer school.”

Smith was giving well-deserved props to one of his indirect protégés, Anson Dorrance, who by then had already won about 10 national championships, and when his women did not bring home the NCAA trophy it was tantamount to John Wooden not winning it all in his prime.

Dorrance, as a UNC soccer player and then young coach, had become a student of the way Smith organized and tutored his team, using many of the measurements and methods that he observed as a privileged character allowed to attend Smith’s private classroom practices.

Dorrance, of course, is still going strong, and Roy Williams, one of Smith’s successors to the Carolina Basketball Empire, has won two of his own national titles and will be a preseason favorite to bring home a third in 2012. But Smith’s legacy, Dorrance and Ol’ Roy all have to step aside this time of the year.

Carolina is a baseball school.

What Mike Fox has done with the once-sleepy version of the national pastime at UNC is no less amazing than what Smith and Dorrance have accomplished in their sports. Remember, in the days Carolina was coached by Walter Rabb and Mike Roberts, the diamond Tar Heels were what most amateur baseball represents in this country — a sweet way to move from spring through summer. The old stadium beside Avery Dorm usually had a few hundred fans in the stands when the Tar Heels played. Sure, an occasional Duke or N.C. State series brought bigger crowds, but those games were for local pride as Clemson generally owned the ACC and contended for the College World Series.

When the ACC expanded for football reasons, it really screwed the pooch in basketball but over 12 years the additions of Florida State and Miami had the most impact on baseball. While the two Sunshine State schools were diamond-dominators, that began to change when UNC hired Fox, who had played on one of the Tar Heels’ two previous College World Series teams in 1978.

It took Fox a few years, but he figured out why it seemed so hard to reach the hallowed aura of Omaha, Nebraska. Since Chad Flack’s dramatic home run in the regional round at Alabama five years ago, Carolina has unlocked the key to the baseball promised land.

Of course, it’s not ALL coaching, and Fox has used the pristine Carolina campus and a $26 million renovation of Boshamer to attract some of the best talent in the country, most up and down the east coast, particularly Rye, New York, in Westchester County, which sent the Moran brothers here 25 years after their uncle B.J. Surhoff starred for the Mike Roberts Tar Heels on the way to becoming a Major League All-Star.

Brian Moran, a lefty reliever for Fox with a 90-8 strikeout-walk ratio, came to UNC as a walk-on and grew into one of the best relief pitchers in the nation before nailing down the last out that sent Carolina to the CWS in 2009. Brian is rising steadily in the Seattle Mariners organization and should be in The Show before too long.

Freshman Colin Moran, Brian’s younger brother, is an even better story. He came to Carolina on a partial scholarship just hoping to make the active roster. He moved to third base from his natural position at shortstop and not only won a starting spot but was the only Tar Heel to make first team All-ACC while also winning conference Freshman of the Year honors. His .342 batting average is still 50 points lower than Uncle B.J.’s career mark but, hey, the kid will play at least two more seasons in Carolina blue.

The Tar Heels, who rose from unranked by Baseball America in the preseason, to currently No. 7 by USA Today, have other great players and stories, such as sophomore shortstop Levi Michael, who graduated early from high school so he could join spring practice and wound up starting as a freshman; and junior Jacob Stallings, an anomaly as a catcher because he is 6-foot-5 (and fourth in the country at gunning down base-stealers) and because his father, Vanderbilt basketball coach Kevin Stallings, lost the “recruiting” battle to Roy Williams over where Jacob would go to school.

So UNC grad Mike Fox, one of six men to both play and coach in the College World Series, has found the magic formula for Carolina baseball. His teams have missed the NCAA Tournament once since he took over in 1999 and he’s going for his fifth trip to the CWS in the last six years over the next week. Whereas UNC was an irregular qualifier for post-season play before he arrived, Fox figured out that recruiting better players and posting strong regular-season records would give Carolina the cache to earn a high seed and home-field advantage in both the NCAA sub- and super regionals.

Playing at home this time of the year makes it a lot easier to survive and advance. And doing so has turned Carolina into a baseball school during these once sleepy days of late spring.

Mike Fox Has The Magic Formula


UNC Greats Heath and O'Reilly, Plus Coach Dorrance, on 2011 Women's World Cup

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team is in the Triangle training for the 2011 World Cup which kicks off next month in Germany. Beyond the Headlines host Hampton Dellinger joined the team during its training session at Wake Med Soccer Complex in Cary. Former UNC greats Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath took time out to offer thoughts on the team’s Cup quest, and how their years at Carolina influences their play today. Maddy Kupinsky assists with the interview.


UNC coach Anson Dorrance, who guided the 1991 US Women’s team to a World Cup title, was also at the training and talked with Hampton about how the US Team and Carolina team stack up against their respective competitors.