Senior Days are often bittersweet for North Carolina women’s basketball.
The Tar Heels haven’t won their final home game since the 2014-15 season. Over the last five years, that’s led to a predictable scene in postgame interviews: seniors reflecting on their careers, coaches singing those players’ virtues and both of them wishing they didn’t have to go out with a loss.
Taylor Koenen, Shayla Bennett and Madinah Muhammad definitely shared those sentiments Sunday after a 73-54 loss to Duke. As did head coach Courtney Banghart.
But there was something else in the air, too, after UNC’s regular-season finale: a sense of closure.
How so? Think of it this way. Last spring, on the heels of an NCAA Tournament appearance, longtime coach Sylvia Hatchell resigned after a law firm review concluded she used “racially insensitive remarks,” among other issues that led to an overall “breakdown of connectivity.”
Starters Stephanie Watts (Southern California) and Destinee Walker (Notre Dame) transferred, and Banghart, formerly of Princeton, came to Chapel Hill in late April facing a roster in flux. One of her first duties, days into her tenure, was to convince other Tar Heels in the transfer portal to stay.
“They had to trust a new coach, a new system, new expectations, new normal,” Banghart said. “They’ll always be my first senior class here at Carolina.”
Given the whirlwind of the last nine months or so, the players at the podium Sunday spoke of their 2019-20 season fondly. It had a sour ending: a seven-game losing streak that lasted the better part of a month and dropped UNC to 16-13 and 7-11 in conference entering this week’s ACC Tournament.