Every year has its highs and lows, but 2015 seems especially big as it gets ready to recede into the rear view. Some true milestones were passed.
As is usual in this community, there were plenty of winners.
Carrboro’s annus magnus: Overall, Carrboro High had a great year, and even more champions.
Last winner, Carrboro won another 2A state swimming championship.
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Future Stanford swimmer Will MacMillan and North Carolina-bound Thomas Bilden both won two individual events and swam on two winning relay teams – with Simon Deshusses and Connor Murphy to win the opening 200 medley relay, and then with Deshusses and Justin Laatz to win the climatic 400 free relay for the state meet’s decisive points.
In the spring, Carrboro’s Magnus Herweyer made it look easy as he won both the shot put and discus events by large margins at the 2014 NCHSAA championship meet in Greensboro.
Herweyer’s Jaguar teammate Maysa Araba also shone, breaking records as she won both the 800 and 1600 meters, while Helen Morken won the 3200 meters title.
In the fall, Carrboro’s Amanda Hickey, in third place with barely 400 meters to go, won the NCHSAA state 2A championship in cross country, helping the Jaguar girls place second (just 2 points behind Brevard).
CHHS three-petes: Chapel Hill won its third straight NCHSAA 3A state championship in boys swimming, led by Jake Pudik’s title in the 100 freestyle and second in the 50 free. Pudik, Christopher Eron, David Baston and Emery Harwell combined to win the 200 free relay (1:28.36), and then Pudik, Eron, Ang Li and O’Donnell did the same in the 400 free relay.
Swimmer Claire DeSelm repeated as champ in both the 200 IM and 100 butterfly, helping the CHHS girls to third place.
Golfers Gina Kim of Chapel Hill High School and Ben Griffin, an East Chapel Hill alum in his sophomore year at the University of North Carolina, were a pair of aces.
Kim, who was runnerup in the N.C. High School 3A tournament as a ninth-grader in 2014, led wire-to-wire to win the 2015 NCHSAA 3A championship by six strokes on Oct. 27 at Foxfire Resort and Golf Club. She later announced her early commitment to join the Duke University varsity.
Griffin, a two-time NCHSAA champion, continued his winning ways last spring for UNC, where he brought home two first-places and eight top-10 finishes in the spring. His season stroke average of 71.06 was the lowest by a Tar Heel since those stats were first recorded in 1979.
The East Chapel Hill field hockey team won its eighth straight state championship, its 12th overall.
Coaching departures: Barely a year after NCHSAA Hall of Fame coach Sherry Norris made official her retirement from teaching, Ray Hartsfield let it be known that this academic year would be his last as athletics director at East Chapel Hill High School.
Hartsfield is the only head basketball coach East Chapel Hill ever has had. He led the Wildcats to the NCHSAA state 3A championship in 1997 in the program’s first year of varsity publication.
But Hartsfield has said he will return in 2016, sans teaching duties, as the Wildcats coach for one more year.
Mike Holderman caught East Chapel Hill off-guard when he told Hartsfield at the end of the 20-14-15 school year he would not return as head coach of the Wildcat football team. Hartsfield turned to defensive coordinator Ryan Johnson to take over, and East won its season-opener in August, bringing some life back into the almost moribund program.
Running: If there’s anything Chapel Hill and Carrboro love as much as basketball, it’s running. Two events in particular stand out.
Serving as a state championship event for USA Track & Field, the Tar Heel 10-miler draws thousands from across North Carolina onto Franklin Street and through the neighborhoods around UNC. Stevven Anderson of Jamestown won the 10-mile race on April 18, while Natalie Lawrence of Kernersville was the top female.
The “Gallop and Gorge” 8K in Carrboro has a more intimate feel, often serving as an annual reunion on Thanksgiving of runners from the local community. Chapel Hill High School alums Sarah Kerwin (Oberlin ‘14) and Taylor Gilland (Virginia ‘13) were the top finishers in this year’s G&G.
The NCAA: Ever since it was revealed that UNC allowed thousands of students over a span of 18 years to get credit for sham courses in African-American studies, a pall has hung over the Chapel Hill campus.
So far, the academic scandal has cost the university a top-flight football coach, a chancellor, several staffers and hundreds of years of a glowing reputation as the nation’s first public university, now burned away by the burning criticisms heaped upon the school.
Tar Heel fans keep fearfully waiting for the coup de grace from the NCAA, but that may never come. Even after another round of self-reported problems issued last fall by the school, the NCAA has never alleged any wrong-doing against its football or men’s basketball programs, the biggest representatives of the athletics department.
Still, the “Southern Part of Heaven” likely will see many students come and go before it regains its halo.
Tar Heels win 11: Predicted by members of the media to finish in fifth place of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division, North Carolina surprised virtually everyone by winning 11 straight football games in 2015. (To their credit, 100 ACC Media Association members picked Clemson as the league’s champion, and four predicted UNC would wins its division.)
Most fans think UNC’s success steams from head coach Larry Fedora and the man he brought in as UNC’s defensive coordinator: Gene Chizak. And two Tar Heels – UNC redshirt senior guard Landon Turner and sophomore running back Elijah Hood – were named first-team All-ACC.
Despite a desultory performance in the Russell Athletics Bowl, in a loss to Baylor, UNC finished with its most wins since the Mac Brown era.
The biggest losses: Even bigger than the NCAA or the Tar Heel football team’s success, nothing was more significant in 2015 than the passing of Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge. Smith died Feb. 7 at age 83. Guthridge died May 12 at age 77.
Somehow, it seemed fitting they both left us just weeks apart. Both of them born in Kansas, they had coached basketball together for 30 years in Chapel Hill.
Smith had more wins (879) than any other NCAA Div. I coach when he retired in 1997, after getting two national championships and 11 Final Four appearances for Carolina. Guthridge took UNC to two Final Fours in his three years as head coach.
The numbers fail at virtually every level to tell what Smith and Guthridge meant to Carolina, its alumni and its athletes. It’s fair to say that no coach was ever more loved by his players than Smith, and Guthridge was an intrinsic part of Smith success and persona.
Together, they made history.