We’re almost a week into 2014, but it’s not too late to look back at 2013, which was another great year for local sports.
Here’s some reflections by the News & Observer staff writers on what they thought were the top stories of the past year.
Presidential honors for Dean Smith
The man himself was conspicuous by his absence. The stage was filled with titans of American life, from Oprah Winfrey to Bill Clinton, arranged around President Barack Obama himself at the center.
Instead of Dean Smith, his wife Linnea sat among them, in his place. The former North Carolina men’s basketball/ coach was receiving the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but he could not be at the White House to receive it, let alone enjoy it.
Smith has suffered so mightily from the degenerative brain disease that has afflicted him over the past five years, but this was a particularly painful moment for his loved ones, particularly as the ceremony began and the realization of the circumstances hit home.
Current North Carolina coach Roy Williams sat among the East Room audience with Bill Guthridge, another of Smith’s successors, and members of Smith’s family as Obama spoke of Smith’s record as a basketball coach and humanitarian.
“I was really struggling when I sat down, as to how I was going to handle it,” Williams said. “I was so thrilled for the event but so sad coach couldn’t be there to enjoy it and understand everything that was going on, because deep down I think he really would have been proud of this. So I’m sitting down there and I’m really struggling with mixed emotions.”
“I was really thankful the way President Obama went through the 16 winners. He had some comic relief, the humor he injected into it took me out of the bad place I was in. I was not in a very happy, jovial mood. It was something I was never going to forget. Then I started thinking about what a great, great happening it is for his family.”
Smith might have been denied his place among equals in person, but the White House honor and the ceremony only reinforced a legacy that continues to flourish.
Big year for high schools
The N.C. High School Athletic Association kicked off a centennial celebration in January and continued throughout the year to celebrate 100 years of high school athletics in the North Carolina.
The NCHSAA traces its history to the state’s first statewide high school competition, a state championship track meet at the University of North Carolina on April 11, 1913. Fifty students from six high schools competed in that first state championship with High Point winning the title.
Raleigh won the first state high school football title that fall.
The NCHSAA celebrated the centennial by selecting 100 male coaches, 100 female coaches, 100 administrators and 100 male and 100 female athletes for recognition. Several Chapel Hillians were among those listed.
• Carrboro ends up on top: Carrboro’s rapid ascendency in local sports hit another high point in 2013 with the school’s winning of a second straight Wells Fargo Cup. Awarded annually by the N.C. High School Athletics Association to one school in each of the state’s four size classifications, the cup is indicative of a program’s overall excellence in all sports.
Carrboro had a great Fall 2012 with playoff points in five sports, including a women’s 2A cross-country championship and state runner-up finishes in both men’s soccer and football.
In the winter sports, Carrboro swept both men’s and women’s swimming and made the state playoffs in both men’s and women’s basketball.
Carrboro secured its second consecutive Cup by winning the 2A women’s outdoor track crown and taking second in men
• Playoff run: Everyone thought the Big Eight Conference would be a powerhouse in football, and they were right. By the end of the season, Big Eight members were ranked among the state’s top 10 3A teams — Orange and Southern Durham. Five qualified for the state playoffs — Chapel Hill, Northwood, Cardinal Gibbons, Orange and Southern.
Southern won it all, fulfilling the high expectations the Spartans had for themselves from the first day of practice all the way through the NCHSAA playoffs. They defeated Shelby Crest in the 3AA state championship.
But first, Southern had to wade back through the Big Eight teams it had defeated in the regular season. paired against its conference rivals by the NCHSAA, Southern eliminated Chapel Hill, Gibbons and then Orange in the first three rounds of the state tournament.
Losing to the same team twice in one year is tough for any program, but knowing that it took the state champions to oust them from the playoffs may have taken some of the sting out of the losses.
• Fin de siècle: As the saying goes, all good things most come to an end, and for local high schools that meant the loss of some top coaches. Chapel Hill High School’s Ron Olsen retired after 18 years in the local school system, having helped CHHS runners win nine team state championships, 12 individual state championships and 35 team conference championships.
Chapel Hill boys basketball coach Tod Morgan and East Chapel Hill football coach Bill Renner both opted to move on to other schools, each having led their programs to record numbers of wins in a single season.
And baseball coaches Nat Tyndall of Carrboro and Randy Trumbower of Chapel Hill, both of whom guided their teams to playoff berths, saw their contracts end without renewal in 2013.
• Hicks is amazing: Oxford Webb’s Isaiah Hicks, who now is at UNC, provided one of the best games in NCHSAA championship history during a 73-70 boys’ basketball win against Statesville. Hicks, at 6-foot-9, scored 34 points, grabbed 30 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
The performance was one of the best championship performances in any sport in NCHSAA history.
To get to the finals, Webb had to get by Chapel Hill, the 2013 Carolina-6 Conference champions and the only league team to defeat the Warriors. Led by Hicks, Webb avenged its loss in the Carolina-6 championship game by eliminating Chapel Hill in the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs, with a 57-41 decision.
• Conference champs: Chapel Hill’s boys’ team was not the only local program to win its conference. The Chapel Hill girls and the Carrboro boys teams both not only won their conference titles, they went undefeated in league games.
Led by Sherry Norris, Chapel Hill’s girls went 10-0 in the Carolina-6 and 30-2 overall, reaching the NCHSAA 3A state championship final before losing to two-time champion Harding University.
Coach John Alcox guided Carrboro to its best year ever in boys basketball. The Jaguars recorded an overall finish of 23-4, 16-0 in the Carolina-12 and went on to sweep its conference tournament before heading into the playoffs.
Tim Stevens & W.E. Warnock
18 innings in the DBAP, and more in Omaha
It lasted 18 innings, and more than six hours, and when it ended – when North Carolina scored the winning run in its 2-1 victory against N.C. State in the ACC baseball tournament – there was a sense that those of us who had been there from the start had watched something historic.
There weren’t many people left in the stands. The game began at 7:41 on a Saturday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It ended at 1:51 Sunday morning.
More than hour before it started, people were waiting to get inside. Lines of light blue and red filled the streets outside the park and finally, when they all streamed inside, the announced crowd of 11,392 was largest to watch a college baseball game in North Carolina.
The Wolfpack and Tar Heels had split two regular-season games in Raleigh – where tickets for those games had sold out days in advance – but rain canceled the third game of their series. The rematch in the ACC tournament represented the long-awaited conclusion to what the regular season didn’t decide.
It was fitting, then, that nine innings came and went in Durham without a winner. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack basically played a continuous doubleheader in the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels and Wolfpack never lacked for drama that night, or for memorable performances.
Carlos Rodon, N.C. State’s All-American pitcher, struck out 14 and allowed just one hit in 10 innings. The only run he allowed was unearned, and it came after an error that he committed. The UNC bullpen didn’t allow a run in the final 12 and 2/3 innings.
UNC first baseman Cody Stubbs drove in Landon Lassiter in the top of the 18th. In the bottom of the inning, N.C. State got the tying run to third base with no outs, but Chris Munnelly retired the next three batters.
And then it was over.
Bleary-eyed and tired, Mike Fox, UNC’s coach, greeted reporters past 2 a.m. The first words out of his mouth were: “I don’t have the words to describe what I just saw.”
UNC and N.C. State played twice more during the postseason – both times in Omaha, Neb., at the College World Series. N.C. State won the first of those, and UNC the second – sending the Wolfpack home in the process. The greatest game they’d ever played, though, had to be the one that lasted 18 innings and nearly six hours.
And elsewhere …
• Duke football arrives: It was in Blacksburg, Va., on Saturday, Oct. 26, that roughly 63,000 people saw something no one could have reasonably predicted: A 13-10 Duke victory over then-No. 14 Virginia Tech. It was the first time the Blue Devils had ever won in Blacksburg (not to mention their first victory over a ranked opponent since 1994).
The all-knowing Las Vegas bookies had been dead wrong, setting Virginia Tech as a 12.5-point favorite, and I challenge anyone to find a TV or conference executive who saw a Duke win coming. The game had been full of surprises.
• Pack rolls over No. 1 Duke: Will Privette made up his mind before the end of N.C. State’s upset of No. 1 Duke he would storm the court with the rest of the Wolfpack students. Of the hundreds who took the court after the 84-76 Wolfpack win, Privette, a senior, got everyone’s attention because he was the first on the court and then got knocked out of his wheelchair.
ESPN’s Dick Vitale helped make Privette an Internet sensation when he worried on the air during the postgame celebration about Privette’s safety. Turned out, Privette was just fine, thanks to some helps from N.C. State junior C.J. Leslie. Leslie scored a game-high 25 points to help the Wolfpack knock off Duke, and then he made the assist of the game when he picked up Privette after he had fallen out of his wheelchair.
Privette and Leslie turned the moment of fame into full media tour, making stops on ESPN and NBC’s “Today” show.
Two weeks later, the Wolfpack ended a 13-game losing streak to North Carolina with a 91-83 win on the same floor.
There was no big postgame celebration, but it was the first time since 2002-03 the Wolfpack had home wins against Duke and UNC in the same season.
• NHL lockout ends: In January, no one knew if there would be an NHL season. Haggling over a collective-bargaining agreement for the league continued. The NHL players had been locked out by the owners. But in the early hours of Sunday Jan. 6, an agreement on a CBA was reached. There would be an NHL season.
Canes forward Patrick Dwyer might may have summed up everyone’s feelings with a simple tweet that Sunday: “I just want to sing from a mountaintop!”