“They lead the country in home runs and we’re playing down there so that’s going to be a tough series,” Papa said.
“It’ll tell a lot.”
Papa is the winningest coach in UNC and ACC softball history, racking up 1,000 wins with the Tar Heels’ victory against Florida State in March — a milestone only 10 other Division I NCAA coaches can claim.
Papa’s 975 wins at North Carolina during her 26-year coaching tenure have helped sculpt the North Carolina program into the successful one that it is today. Papa has led the Tar Heels to eight consecutive NCAA appearances.
Wheeler fronts the Tar Heels’ attack with a .421 batting average and a team-leading nine home runs. Combined with her 25 RBI, nine stolen bases and 15 multi-hit games in 2011, she leads the team in 10 statistical categories.
Backing her up is a balanced team assault, with a .285 total batting average and .957 fielding percentage.
On the mound, freshman Lori Spingola leads UNC with a 20-11 record and 1.69 ERA. She boasts 174 strikeouts to just 35 walks.
“I definitely see us winning the ACC this year,” Spingola said. “We are going to peak at the right time.”
Last season, UNC fell to the Yellow Jackets in the second round of the conference tournament. Though the Tar Heels still received a bid to the NCAAs, they failed to overcome defending national champion Washington in a hard-fought series.
This year, the Tar Heels faced tough ranked opponents early on, going up against then-No. 2 Alabama and then-No. 5 Florida.
“I feel like those games really helped them grow,” Papa said. “Now we’ve got a lot of season left, a lot of series left. The only thing I’m disappointed in is that we’re out of the polls for the first time in years.”
The Tar Heels started the season ranked, but slipped from the top-25 after several weeks of play.
Papa said it’s her goal to coach the Tar Heels to an ACC title, and hopefully make an appearance in the College World Series.
With 17 games remaining before the conference tournament begins, North Carolina has plenty of time to work on achieving that goal.
“We’ve definitely improved as the season has progressed,” Wheeler said. “The young people in our lineup are maturing and the team chemistry is getting better. The sky’s the limit as long as we put all of our talent to use.”
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