My look back at favorite columns of 2017 continues and concludes today as we go from five to one.
One of the great joys of my professional life has been having the opportunity to get to know Olympic sports student-athletes and coaches. They are all more than willing to provide access, to give insight to their dedication and training and their profound love of Carolina. And they’re supremely talented. I’ve often said that you can attend just about any sporting event involving a Tar Heel team and know that you are seeing some of the finest athletes in college sports.
Such is certainly the case with tennis player Hayley Carter, who graduated from Carolina as one of the most decorated athletes —regardless of sport—in school history. Not only is Hayley a champion, she’s accessible, humble and open. It was a pleasure covering and getting to know her. I’ve kept in touch a bit with her as she’s now an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, and I’m confident she’ll be an invaluable resource for the Cowgirls.
But last spring, I just wanted to convey to Tar Heel fans that they had one last season to come see her play. I wanted you to have the chance to see Hayley on the tennis court before you saw her on the basketball court or the football field, for some campus-wide recognition.
I actually heard from several of you that indeed, you went to see Hayley and Brian Kalbas’s team play because of my recommendation. I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that college tennis is wildly underrated as a spectator experience, and I’ll implore you to visit Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center this spring as well.
Oh, and I was right about seeing Hayley on the basketball court - she’ll be back in Chapel Hill to be honored as one of three winners of the Patterson Medal. The other winners are Ryan Switzer and Justin Jackson. Doubtless you saw them play. I hope you got to see Hayley play, too.
I’ll be honest: I don’t get a lot out of watching practice as a member of the media. With football, with rare exception, open practices are only in fact open for the first 30 minutes. A lot of that is stretching and position drills, and anyone who tells you they’re gaining some sort of valuable insight is either stretching the truth or has a greater football mind that I do (entirely possible).
With basketball, practices are rarely open at all, except for this one right after the media day session. I decided to watch Roy Williams intently, to take notes and see if I could discern a theme for the preseason, to see what it was like to be coached by Roy Williams. I think this turned out well, and from your feedback, you enjoyed it, too.
This men’s tennis team. Man. Again, crazy access, crazy appreciation that I was there at all. But they deserved it. And when Sam Paul’s team made it to the NCAA Championship match, I loaded up the car, grabbed former interns Olivia Henley and Alex Zietlow (now with The Daily Tar Heel) and drove to Athens, Georgia. We bought Exploding Kittens at Target and played it over lunch. We spent the night at a cheap motel and had a late dinner at Cook Out. It was all worth it, regardless of the result. I wanted to be there to see Ronnie Schneider’s final college tennis match, to see this team fight for a title, and I wanted to pay them worthy tribute.
With this piece, I found a theme, assembled the framework and went to work building a column. Alex and I worked in a narrow room underneath the stands at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex, the air conditioner going in and out. I finished writing in about 30 minutes while Alex worked. He quickly read my column. “How did you do that!?” he said. It’s easy when you’re inspired.
2. On Amnesia
I was inspired in writing this one, too. As the guy who pulled off the great Myra Piggy prank of 2005, I knew who Myron Piggie was before this Yahoo! Sports article. And then I went about the work of doing my research before putting fingers to keyboard. The Yahoo! authors took shots at Roy, attempting to tie him to a convicted headline, so I rebutted. I’d never have been able to write this at GoHeels, and I’m glad Argyle Report was the platform for this column.
Of course this was going to be #1. After the heartbreak of the 2016 national championship game (maybe my favorite thing I’ve ever written, hard as it was) this was the column I most wanted to write, and yet it was. so. hard. How do you capture a national championship? How do you write, as a featured columnist on the official web site of Carolina athletics, about just the sixth NCAA men’s basketball title in school history?
The easy thing to do would be to just write a play by play of what happened in the game, to count down the seconds and count up the final baskets. So I started there, of course, but then I had to weave in a narrative. I found the redemption theme tiresome and even somewhat unfair. It’s no sin to lose a basketball game. More compelling for me was the humanity of Isaiah Hicks, who said that all he could do is try. More compelling for me was the evolution of Kennedy Meeks, the elevation of Justin Jackson, the never-say-die attitude of Joel Berry.
More compelling was the attempt to put into words the emotions that we, as fans feel, when our team ascends the podium and accepts the trophy representing the pinnacle of their sport. This was a scrapbook moment, one that we’ll always remember.
My column here was a request: to hold on to this moment, to remember this time. To not look ahead, but to enjoy the present. Now, we can place April 2017 in its historical context. But that night, and the morning that followed, I wanted us to enjoy that Shining Moment.
Thanks for reading.