During the offseason, the Tar Heels lost six of their top seven scorers. The final three members of the Tar Heels’ top-ranked 2013 recruiting class, — Allisha Gray, Stephanie Mavunga and Jessica Washington — transferred to South Carolina, Ohio State and Kansas respectively after losing star Diamond DeShields in 2014.
Add to that a host of questions that were raised when the University released the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, and it’s easy to see why many have counted UNC out before the season has even begun.
But Coach Sylvia Hatchell isn’t worried. The Tar Heels are still setting their sights on championship wins — shooting for the moon, if you will.
“You remember the Apollo flight, 13, I guess, when people thought it was going to be a disaster?” Hatchell said. “And the astronauts, one of them said, ‘No, this will be our finest hour.’
“This will be our finest hour.”
While the losses are the easiest to see, the pieces that return from a North Carolina team that made it to the Sweet 16 a year ago cannot be overlooked.
After spending the majority of her first season with the Tar Heels as the backup point guard behind now-graduated Latifah Coleman, sophomore Jamie Cherry is ready to take on the role of the court general.
“I stepped up big time as far as like, getting in shape and just being serious about my diet and about what I do,” Cherry said. “Because I knew that I have to play a big role in the season and I had to play X amount of minutes”
In the frontcourt, former ACC Rookie of the Year Xylina McDaniel returns after missing the better part of the 2014-15 season with a torn Achilles. In her last her previous healthy season, when the she was a sophomore, the forward averaged 11.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game while helping lead the Tar Heels to the Elite Eight in 2014.
But despite McDaniel’s past triumphs, she was left off Preseason All-ACC Team — something she’s using as inspiration.
“I do see it as a slap in the face, but at the same time I’m using it as motivation to continue to work harder and show everyone that I’m back,” McDaniel said.
The Tar Heels are also aided by the arrival of two key newcomers in McDonald’s All-Americans Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker, who are both poised to see significant minutes when UNC opens its season against Gardner-Webb at 3:30 p.m. at Carmichael Arena.
Even with the losses the Tar Heels are facing, the pieces they bring back and the new additions they bring in have Hatchell confident UNC can still make noise in the ACC this season.