In her third year as head coach of the UNC women’s basketball team, Courtney Banghart finally has a team that’s hers — all hers.
From her new star-studded recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 3 in the nation to two newly-arrived veteran transfer players, nobody is on this team that Banghart didn’t want there.
Even the lone holdover from before her arrival in Chapel Hill, redshirt senior forward Jaelynn Murray, is still on the team despite graduating this past May.
“I didn’t ask her to stay,” Banghart told reporters at the ACC Tipoff in Charlotte this past Wednesday. “I made her stay.”
Even if the team was truly Banghart’s now, what if there were cohesion issues? There were new faces on either side of the age spectrum, and the team lost two of last season's foremost locker room leaders in Janelle Bailey and Stephanie Watts to the WNBA.
But those same new faces have stepped into that gap, turning what could’ve been a disjointed team into one that, in their minds, is closer than ever.
“It’s just hard not to be happy walking into practice,” junior forward Malu Tshitenge said. “Everyone’s smiling, everyone’s happy, we’re excited to start a new day, to start practice and to just be with each other. We’re a family.”
One of the newest members of that family is graduate transfer point guard Carlie Littlefield, who arrived in Chapel Hill after playing three seasons at Princeton. The first two of those seasons were also Banghart’s last two years coaching the Tigers. Despite only being on the team for a couple of months, Littlefield was unanimously voted to be a team captain for the season, a testament to the role she’s found off the court.
She’s also found a role on the court too, slotting in as a true point guard alongside combo players like sophomore guard Deja Kelly. Kelly said she looked to Littlefield for both senior leadership and solid performances on both ends of the floor.