North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell’s career has marked over four decades of excellence, obstacles and hard work.
From her first win as a head coach at Francis Marion in 1976 to her now 32-year tenure at UNC, Hatchell has instilled a winning culture for every team she has coached. The constant hard work payed off on Tuesday afternoon in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as the Tar Heels faced off against struggling Grambling State (3-6).
After a win against Washington in a high scoring affair on Sunday, Hatchell sat just one win shy of the prestigious 1,000 career win mark. North Carolina fans filled the stands with signs and T-shirts, and the center with chants that lasted the entire game.
The Tar Heels (10-2) were locked into a tight contest in the first half after a slow shooting start. Guards Jamie Cherry and Taylor Koenen helped pace the team though with good shooting, though, and UNC took a five-point lead into the break at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
In the second half, the Tar Heels were able to pull away and finish the game with a 79-63 victory over the Tigers. Koenen finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Cherry finished with a team-high 22 points.
As the buzzer sounded on Hatchell’s 1,000th career win, the celebration began. Her team surrounded her along with fans, former players and others who followed the coach's storied career. Hats and T-shirts proclaiming “Sylvia Hatchell 1000 Wins! Beyond Amazing!”
Hatchell joins a short and prestigious list of college basketball coaches with at least 1,000 wins: Mike Krzyzewski, Tara VanDerveer, Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma (who won his 1,000th later on Tuesday night).
The journey wasn't an easy one. At North Carolina, Hatchell coached during the entirety of the NCAA's investigation into the school. She also missed the 2013-14 season as she fought leukemia. She returned to the team in its 2014 season opener.
“You learn so much when you go through things like that, and how though you have to be” Hatchell said. “What I have gone through the past couple years has absolutely renewed my passion for the game and my passion for winning, especially at UNC.”
For seniors like Cherry, the moment was surreal and the opportunity to be a part of the win was a special feeling.
“It feels great being a part of that, that’s huge,” Cherry said. “Her going down as the third most winning active coach was perfect and I am glad I was able to contribute to that.”
The progression of Hatchell’s coaching career has been remarkable after first taking that Francis Marion head coaching job in a town she had never heard of: Florence, S.C. Hatchell joked that besides the little help she could find, she was essentially on her own, driving the bus, washing the uniforms and sweeping the floor.
In those 11 seasons Hatchell won 272 games and two national championships: one at the NAIA level and another at the AIAW level.
After receiving the job at North Carolina, Hatchell has not stopped her hard work ethic. At UNC, she's produced three Final Four appearances, eight ACC Tournament championships, three coach of the year awards, 31 seasons of 20-plus wins and a national championship win in 1994.
Even as Hatchell looks back on the past, and the memory of her first collegiate game does not seem so distant, she cannot help but keep looking forward. Hatchell not only wants to add on to her win total, but make North Carolina competitive again and earn a chance at multiple national championships. But above all, she wants to make the game's future even brighter.
“I want to keep growing the game," Hatchell said. "There are some things I want to do to help players get into coaching, especially the female basketball players that want to coach. I want to make the game better. I want to increase the scoring. There's a lot I want to do to just make the game better."
The Tar Heels will look to get Hatchell her 1,001st win on Dec. 28, when UNC plays its last home game of 2017 against Mercer in Carmichael Arena.