With the conclusion of the Men’s College World Series in Omaha earlier this week, the 2021-22 NCAA season is officially over. Twenty-eight UNC varsity teams took to the fields, courts, diamonds, pools and tracks this past season, as well as several other teams at the non-NCAA club level (looking at you, ultimate).

All in all, a school like UNC, whose teams compete very early in the academic year and, if successful enough, compete through June, the athletic season can last approximately 10 months. One could easily call athletic director Bubba Cunningham the busiest man on campus. Over those 10 months, Tar Heel teams claimed multiple conference and national championships, while giving fans memories to last a lifetime (good and bad).

Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of the 2021-22 season:

Where It All Began!

Hey, remember this? Labor Day weekend ushered in a highly-anticipated season of UNC football, one which began in an unorthodox way: a season-opening trip to conference foe Virginia Tech. Blacksburg’s Lane Stadium was as raucous as it has ever been to welcome the No. 10 Tar Heels, and also to welcome back sold-out college football stadiums after the “COVID season” of 2020.

The game was nationally televised, and Virginia Tech’s traditional playing of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” quickly went viral. Yes, college football and all its pageantry was truly back.

Don’t worry about the actual game, nothing really happened.

A Carmichael Renaissance

One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2021-22 season was the UNC volleyball program’s return to the postseason. The Tar Heels got off to an 11-0 start before starting ACC play, eventually finishing 21-9 and in a three-way tie for sixth in the conference.

Head coach Joe Sagula’s bunch went 3-0 against rivals NC State and Duke and qualified for their first NCAA Tournament in five years. The team got contributions from young and old: Mabrey Shaffmaster was named ACC Freshman of the Year, while graduate  transfer Nia Parker-Robinson led the team in kills and was named second team All-ACC. To learn more about Parker-Robinson’s year at UNC, click here.

Heavy is the Head

Image via UNC Athletic Communications

The UNC field hockey team embarked on a quest for an unprecedented four-peat of NCAA championships, but their season got off to a rocky start. The team lost its first two games to Michigan and Iowa and sat at 2-3 after its first five games. The Tar Heels eventually found their footing, but were not the dominant force of years past.

Superstar forward Erin Matson scored her 100th career goal against Duke in October, but had to miss the next three games due to an injury. She made her return in the regular-season finale at Virginia and scored all three of UNC’s goals, including the game-winner in overtime.

Sitting at 10-6, UNC would likely have to win the ACC Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament and continue its bid for a four-peat. That dream looked a little shaky as UNC fended off Wake Forest in overtime in the opening round, but saw head coach Karen Shelton ejected and suspended for the semifinal against Syracuse. The Orange had throttled Carolina 5-0 earlier in the season. But the Tar Heels rallied without their coach, upsetting the tournament hosts 4-1 to reach the ACC title game.

Carolina then beat Virginia for the second time in nine days to clinch the program’s fifth straight ACC crown and clinch an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, the four-peat dream would die early, as Carolina fell to eventual national champion Northwestern in the first round.

A New Era

Image via Todd Melet

The UNC men’s basketball season began with the usual pomp and circumstance, but for the first time in 17 years, Roy Williams wasn’t patrolling the sidelines. Following the Hall of Famer’s retirement in April, longtime assistant and former UNC player Hubert Davis was named his successor. The job would be Davis’ first-ever head coaching position.

The program officially welcomed Davis to “the big chair” at its annual Late Night celebration (formerly called “Late Night With Roy”), playing a video of former colleagues, players and coaches congratulating Davis on his new job.

Here’s a grainy, shaky look at part of the video from some guy in the audience:

Davis’ young tenure also brought in some new Dean Smith Center traditions, including local radio personality BDAHT as a de facto emcee during most home games.

The Tar Heels went through a bumpy beginning of the season, enduring closer-than-expected games against Brown and College of Charleston while taking tough losses to Purdue and Tennessee. A 29-point loss to Kentucky at the nationally-televised CBS Sports Classic seemed to be rock bottom for the program. Might as well forget about these guys, then.

Football is Fun!

Image via USA Today Sports

While the 2021 season certainly wasn’t what Carolina fans hoped for, the Tar Heels could still play spoiler for an in-state rival. Wake Forest came into Kenan Stadium on an overcast November afternoon sporting an 8-0 record and a No. 9 ranking in the AP Poll. ABC commentator Sean McDonough billed the game as one of the biggest in the history of Wake Forest’s program.

The Demon Deacons certainly played like it early on, using an explosive offense to take advantage of a spotty UNC defense. Wake scored 21 points in the second quarter alone and led 45-27 in the third. It looked like it would be yet another disappointing loss for the Tar Heels.

But after cutting the deficit down to 14 by the beginning of the final quarter, Carolina finally snapped to life. Ty Chandler scored two rushing touchdowns in 53 seconds after the UNC defense picked off Wake quarterback Sam Hartman, and the game was tied in the blink of an eye. After a Carolina field goal gave the Tar Heels the lead with two minutes left, one more Chandler touchdown run followed a Wake turnover on downs, sending Kenan Stadium into a frenzy and capping off the comeback. Read more about the game here.

Football is Not Fun

Image via The News & Observer

Of course, no story of the 2021 UNC football team is complete without its disappointing ending. The Tar Heels came into Carter-Finley Stadium on Black Friday as underdogs, and NC State needed a win to keep its dreams of an Atlantic Division title alive. That is to say, the Wolfpack had everything to play for, and the Tar Heels had just their pride.

As tends to happen in rivalries like these, the teams fought and clawed back and forth all night. NC State went ahead 14-0 in the first quarter, only for Carolina to score 24 unanswered points. The Wolfpack cut the deficit to 24-21 in the third quarter, but two field goals from UNC’s Grayson Atkins gave the Tar Heels a 30-21 lead with two minutes to go. The two-possession deficit was a seemingly insurmountable hill to climb for the Wolfpack.

But climb it they did. NC State scored quickly on a long touchdown pass, then recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Wolfpack scored yet another touchdown with 1:09 to go, just 26 seconds after the first. UNC quarterback Sam Howell valiantly tried to lead a desperation scoring drive in the final minute, but had his Hail Mary intercepted in the endzone.

To read more about the game, click here.

The Dynasty Continues

Image via Intercollegiate Tennis Association

The quietest dynasty on UNC’s campus may be the women’s tennis team. Head coach Brian Kalbas and the Tar Heels are a full-fledged national powerhouse, and have the trophies to prove it. Their home matches being played at the off-campus Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center (just to the east of Finley Golf Course) lends the program a certain air of secrecy. It’s not easy to get to the facility if you’re a student living on-campus.

Nevertheless, the Tar Heels still do their school proud. Carolina captured its third consecutive ITA Indoor national championship in February, defeating Ohio State, Virginia, NC State and Oklahoma on its way to the title. It’s also the team’s fourth win in the last five years and sixth in the last 10. The 2022 championship against the Sooners featured a wild Tar Heel comeback, as the team rebounded from losing the doubles point and dropping the first set in four of six singles matches.

Carson Tanguilig fought back from a first set loss and Elizabeth Scotty and Fiona Crawley each won in straight sets, putting UNC up 3-2 in the match and one point away from a three-peat. Anika Yarlagadda sealed the deal, kicking off the celebration and sending the Tar Heels to the top of the national polls For more on the title, click here.

A Carmichael Renaissance, Part 2

Image via Associated Press/Gerry Broome

Head coach Courtney Banghart’s Tar Heels were picked to finish seventh in the ACC women’s basketball preseason polls. While Banghart couldn’t personally do anything about the vote, she kept an inner confidence that her team was better than predicted. It turned out she was right.

Carolina women’s basketball thrust itself back into the national spotlight in the 2021-22 season, starting 13-0 and moving back into the Top 25 for the first time in six years. The guard combo of Deja Kelly and Kennedy Todd-Williams, as well as versatile big Alyssa Ustby and forward Anya Poole constituted a core of sophomores who signed on to Banghart’s rebuild of the once-proud UNC program. That quartet, along with transfer point guard Carlie Littlefield, started each and every game for Banghart during the season.

UNC’s true “arrival” back on the big stage may have been a thrilling 66-65 win over No. 3 Louisville in Carmichael Arena. The Cardinals, who would go on to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, led by as many as six points in the final quarter, only for Todd-Williams, Kelly and reserve Eva Hodgson to engineer a frantic rally. A jumper from Kelly gave UNC the lead with 23 seconds remaining, and a pair of Todd-Williams free throws answered a Louisville basket and restored Carolina’s one-point advantage.

The Cardinals very nearly stole the game at the buzzer, but a desperation shot off an offensive rebound rolled off the rim after an agonizingly long wait. The win was Carolina’s 20th of the year, and marked the first time since 2015 the team had reached the 20-win plateau. For more on the game, click here.

“Ignore All Sideshow Distractions”

Image via The Daily Tar Heel/Helen McGinnis

The UNC men’s basketball team is no stranger to the spotlight, but the Tar Heels had perhaps never experienced hype around a regular-season game that compared to the week of March 5. Carolina would visit Cameron Indoor Stadium that Saturday night to play Duke in Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game. Duke was ranked No. 4 in the country at the time, while UNC was unranked. Not only that, but the Blue Devils had throttled Carolina in the Smith Center just a month before. Needless to say, Duke was the betting favorite by a whopping 11.5 points.

Media understandably wanted to get Hubert Davis’ opinion on playing in such a game, but the rookie head coach remained unflappable in the days leading up to tip-off. Davis only said he’d given his team a Bible verse during practice.

The pomp and circumstance on Saturday night was everything Carolina fans were dreading: a pregame ceremony for Krzyzewski (which ESPN placed in a double-box along with Kansas and Texas playing in overtime), complete with a tunnel of nearly 100 former players ushering him to center court for a photo. It was a who’s who of Blue Devil legends: Christian Laettner, J.J. Redick, Grant Hill and Shane Battier were all in attendance.

The Tar Heels were almost an afterthought. But once the game started, they took center stage. Carolina didn’t wilt as it had in Chapel Hill, instead taking an early lead, weathering a Duke run late in the first half, and closing to within two points at halftime. The second half has already become legendary: UNC outscored Duke 55-40, pulling away in the final minutes and leading by as many as 14 points before the buzzer sounded on a 94-81 Carolina victory.

For more on the game, click here. For a chat with the photographer of the picture featured above, click here.

You Get a Sweet 16! You Get a Sweet 16!

Image via UNC Athletic Communications/Jeffrey A. Camarati

Both UNC basketball teams made the NCAA Tournament in 2022, the men as a No. 8 seed and the women as a No. 5 seed. Because of that, both would be tasked with playing a higher seed in the second round for a chance to reach the Sweet 16. Each team’s game had its own unique challenge: the men would take on No. 1 seed and defending national champions Baylor, while the women would play a true road game at No. 4 seed Arizona, the defending national runners-up.

Both Tar Heel teams proved unfazed by the long odds, as the women dominated Arizona from tip-off to the buzzer, leading by as many as 24 points in the fourth quarter and winning 63-45. Carolina allowed just 17 points in the first 20 minutes, stifling the Wildcats and holding them to 28.8 percent shooting. For more on the game, click here.

The men’s team looked to be on the way to a blowout win of its own, leading the Bears by as many as 25 points in the second half. But Baylor would make UNC sweat bullets before the bitter end, taking advantage of a Brady Manek ejection and some nervy Carolina turnovers to force overtime. With Caleb Love out of the game as well after fouling out, it seemed UNC was on the ropes. But if they were, they didn’t show it; the Tar Heels never trailed in the overtime period, eventually pulling away for a wild 93-86 victory. For more on the game, click here.

Carolina was one of only three programs in the country to have both its men’s and women’s basketball teams reach the Sweet 16.

The Iron Five

Image via Todd Melet

There have been some incredibly deep teams in the history of the UNC men’s basketball program. The 2021-22 bunch was not one of them. Fans quickly began to notice Hubert Davis’ penchant for playing his starters for 35 minutes or more every game, which led to understandable worries about the team’s health in a long season. The abrupt departure of forward Dawson Garcia and the unavailability of guard Anthony Harris made a thin team only thinner.

Davis made it clear the depth chart is determined through practice. What also became clear was that the quintet of Caleb Love, R.J. Davis, Leaky Black, Brady Manek and Armando Bacot were by far the best five players on the team. Love and Davis were both leaps and bounds ahead of their freshman selves, Black had become one of the best defenders in the ACC, Manek’s shooting prowess and style of play made him a fan favorite, and Bacot was shattering UNC rebounding records left and right. That lineup played all 20 minutes in the second half of the win at Duke.

Their grueling workload and ever-growing reliability earned the starting lineup a now-eternal nickname: “The Iron Five.” That core would end up leading the Tar Heels on one of the most memorable tournament runs in Carolina history, following up the win over Baylor with victories against UCLA in the Sweet 16, Saint Peter’s in the Elite Eight (long story there), and finally, Duke in the Final Four.

The first-ever meeting between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament was as thrilling as any basketball fan could’ve hoped for: the teams went back and forth through 18 lead changes, game-changing plays and big shots on both sides. In the end, it was Caleb Love’s three-pointer with less than 30 seconds to go which stuck the dagger into the Mike Krzyzewski Farewell Tour, sending Carolina to the championship game. Not too bad for a team some thought wouldn’t even make the tournament.

For more on the men’s basketball team, click here.

A Tar Heel At The Masters

Image via Greaser Tracker on Twitter

UNC golfer Austin Greaser has had quite the year. The junior from Vandalia, OH, represented Carolina at some of the most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, beginning with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur Championship last summer. Because of Greaser’s performance, he earned bids to both The Masters and the U.S. Open, which would be his first professional events.

Greaser was easily spotted amid the pristine green of Augusta National Golf Club, donning bright Carolina blue attire on the links. While Greaser eventually missed the cut at The Masters, he clearly enjoyed himself over the weekend. He would fare better at the U.S. Open earlier in June, and was one of just four amateurs to make the cut.

In addition to his PGA debuts, Greaser also put together a very successful season with the Tar Heels. The men’s golf team made the quarterfinals of the NCAA Championship, and Greaser was named an honorable mention All-America and received All-ACC honors for the second consecutive year. Carolina’s Andrew DiBitetto was also named ACC Coach of the Year.

Ultimate Champions

Image via Brian Whittier

Ever won four national championships in five months? That’s precisely what the UNC men’s and women’s ultimate frisbee teams did this year. The men’s team, Darkside, and the women’s team, Pleiades, both won the delayed 2021 national championship in December, which was meant as a make-up tournament for the postponed spring 2021 championship. Then, in an unorthodox half-season that spring, both teams qualified for nationals in Milwaukee and did it again.

It was an unprecedented double back-to-back championship run, something which has not been duplicated in the history of college ultimate. The titles were Darkside’s fourth and Pleiades’ second. For more on the ultimate teams at UNC, click here.


Image via UNC Athletic Communications/Jeffrey A. Camarati

Simply put, the 2022 UNC women’s lacrosse team had one of the best seasons any Carolina team in any sport has ever had. The Tar Heels were looking to rebound after a heartbreaking defeat in the 2021 Final Four, which saw undefeated Carolina lost to eventual national champion Boston College.

After that loss, nearly all of the team’s star players chose to return for one last season: attacker Jamie Ortega, goalie Taylor Moreno, midfielder Ally Mastroianni and several others. In addition, the team reloaded with notable transfers such as Andie Aldave from Notre Dame and Olivia Dirks from Penn State.

The 2022 Tar Heels quickly made it clear they were among the best of the best around the country once again, winning each of their first eight games by at least four goals. But the team was still stuck at No. 2 in the rankings, behind Boston College. Like UNC, the Eagles had also returned the core of their team, including superstar attacker Charlotte North. The two teams would meet in a titanic regular-season matchup in Chestnut Hill, MA, one which saw the Tar Heels fight off a last-ditch Eagles rally to survive, 16-15.

Carolina ascended to No. 1 and would stay undefeated through the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels were nearly tripped up there by feisty Notre Dame, who led 5-0 early. UNC rallied to take a 14-13 win and clinch a spot in the ACC title game, where it would host… Boston College.

Though the Eagles and Tar Heels were evenly matched through the game’s first half, Carolina pulled away in the second by scoring 10 unanswered goals. The win was UNC’s sixth consecutive ACC Tournament title.

Carolina won its first two games of the NCAA Tournament to reach the Final Four once again, but their stay in Baltimore would not be easy. Against No. 4 Northwestern, UNC looked like it would take a premature exit from the tournament. The Wildcats dominated for three quarters, scoring the first six goals of the game and leading 14-7 midway through the fourth quarter.

If any Tar Heel fans turned off the TV, they missed one of the greatest comebacks in the history of college lacrosse. UNC scored eight goals in the game’s final 10 minutes, including five from Sam Geiersbach, to steal a 15-14 win and advance to the title game. There they would face, you guessed it, Boston College.

In front of a sold-out crowd and a national television audience, the Tar Heels and Eagles played a thriller, hailed by some as one of the greatest games in the history of NCAA women’s lacrosse. Carolina led 5-2 early, but North and the Eagles rallied to take a 9-8 lead early in the fourth quarter, using tough defense to stall the powerful UNC attack. With the title and an undefeated season on the line, it was Ortega who scored the game-tying goal in her final college game, before Nicole Humphrey, Geiersbach and Scottie Rose Growney (also playing her final game) scored in the final eleven minutes to give UNC a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Carolina won the game 12-11, clinching a third national title in program history and completing a perfect season. Ortega would go on to win the Honda Award for Women’s Lacrosse. For more on the women’s lacrosse team’s title, click here.

Freakin’ Awesome!

Image via Associated Press/Chris Carlson

Head coach Scott Forbes and the UNC baseball team looked like they might miss the NCAA Tournament in the middle of the season. A hot start had given way to some frustrating struggles, capped off by a sweep at the hands of Virginia which included a walk-off grand slam. Forbes needed a spark for his team, and looked to his good friend Hubert Davis for advice. As someone with experience lifting a team out of a slump, Davis gave his friend a familiar pointer: ignore distractions.

The advice paid off in spades: the Diamond Heels embarked on a late season surge which saw them win 19 of their final 24 games, including a run to the ACC Tournament title. The championship game proved extra sweet, as the Tar Heels defeated rival NC State for the third time in four games that season. Freshman sensation Vance Honeycutt homered twice on the day and earned himself ACC Tournament MVP honors. The final out was recorded just a few hours after the women’s lacrosse team’s national title win.

The victory earned Carolina an automatic bid into the tournament, where they were named as a regional host and the No. 10 overall seed in the field. In a shocking snub, the Wolfpack were not in the field at all.

Carolina had begun using a rallying cry during the hot streak: “Freakin’ Awesome.” Multiple players and members of Forbes’ family said it was one of the second-year head coach’s favorite sayings. Like Davis, Forbes is famously clean-mouthed, so “freakin'” is about the most you’ll get from him.

But no amount of non-curse words could prevent Forbes from getting ejected from UNC’s second game of the regional against VCU for arguing two controversial calls. Even worse, Forbes was suspended by the NCAA for Carolina’s next two games. The Tar Heels would need to win both to stave off elimination from their own regional.

Carolina fended off Georgia in the first elimination game (with the help of a home run robbery from Honeycutt), then blew out VCU later that night to force a winner-take-all game the following evening. In front of a raucous Boshamer Stadium crowd, the Tar Heels took control early and used brilliant performances from the bullpen to defeat the Rams again and clinch a spot in the Super Regionals. For more on that game, click here.

Though the Diamond Heels would lose in the Supers to Arkansas, it was still far more than any fan could have expected in mid-April. Freakin’ awesome indeed.


Featured image via UNC Athletic Communications

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