The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Ernest Bawa embraces leadership role on the UNC men's soccer team


UNC junior midfielder/forward Ernest Bawa (20) defends the ball during the men’s soccer game against Florida Gulf Coast at Dorrance Field on Oct. 10, 2023.

After scoring on a penalty kick, senior midfielder Ernest Bawa heard a cry from the sidelines: “Do a flip!”

As he reached the edge of the field, he answered the call — leaping into the air and completing an aerial cartwheel. For as long as he can remember, he's flipped after each of his goals.

But, for Bawa, this one felt "extra special." 

The UNC men’s soccer team defeated Florida Gulf Coast, 3-0, Tuesday evening in Bawa’s first start since the season opener on August 24. He played a season-high 55 minutes and scored his second goal of the year. That goal and ensuing flip meant a lot, considering that Bawa went from starting the last 11 games of 2022 to playing most of this season off the bench.

With the implementation of transfers like graduate midfielder Quenzi Huerman and graduate forward Martin Vician, Bawa has navigated a different role this year.

“I know that I can help the team, and I know the team needs everybody,” Bawa said. “I feel like I’m beginning to embrace that role more now, and scoring a goal makes me feel like I’m contributing more now to the team.”

After last week's win against Elon, head coach Carlos Somoano praised Bawa’s impact on the offensive side of the ball. In the following game, against Syracuse, Bawa played significantly more minutes than he did in his previous appearances this season. 

On Tuesday, Somoano rewarded all his effort with a start.

“I love Bawa,” Somoano said. “He’s a human being that is super charismatic. He’s been here for four years, and if he plays good [or] doesn’t play good, it doesn't change the way I feel about him.”

Bawa's goal came in the 20th minute after Vician was taken down in the penalty box. Bawa said he and Vician both wanted to take the penalty and he “pleaded” with his teammate to hand the ball over.

"I was like, 'Can I please take it,'" Bawa said.

After convincing Vician to let him take the kick, Bawa stepped up for his first penalty attempt of the year. The midfielder buried the ball into the goal to give UNC a 2-0 cushion.

“Bawa’s a great player, and we are lucky to have him,” Vician said. “He showed it today. [He’s] definitely one of the leaders of this team. He proved it on the field, too.”

Bawa’s journey to North Carolina began in Ghana, where he grew up and learned how to flip. He said everyone knew how to flip in his neighborhood and he would practice it with his friends on the soccer field.

In his senior season, which he said is his last year at UNC, Bawa hopes to continue making an impact on the program and complete as many celebratory flips as possible.

“Wherever you go, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish it up,” Bawa said. “It’s going to take a lot of reflecting. I know I want to play, I want to score, I want to assist, I want to do all the good things that a soccer player dreams of. But at the end of the day, how do I want my teammates to remember me?”


@dthsports |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.