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The Daily Tar Heel

There's an abundance of talent across all of UNC's athletic programs, and every year, each team is highlighted by one, or even multiple, electrifying athletes in their respective sports.

After much consideration, The Daily Tar Heel sports editors have compiled their picks for the 2023 Athlete of the Year.

Aranza Vazquez 

Aranza Vazquez has proven herself as a trailblazer at UNC, underscored by the accolades she’s amassed this year, such as the 2023 ACC Women’s Diver of the Year and the 2022-23 CSCAA Women’s Diver of the Year.

Vazquez etched her name in UNC history as the first diver to clinch a national title after being crowned a champion in both the one-meter and three-meter springboard at the 2023 NCAA Championships. Vazquez also claimed victory in the ACC Championship one-meter, three-meter and platform events, earned a spot on the All-America first team for the second time and was a finalist for the prestigious Honda Award for Swimming & Diving.

Not only did Vazquez shine athletically, but she earned a place on the ACC All-Academic Team. Furthermore, Vazquez has been open about her mental health journey, battling depression and self-imposed pressure following the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. After taking a break from diving and receiving support from teammates and coach Yaidel Gamboa, she triumphed at the NCAA Championship.

Vazquez’s extraordinary feats, coupled with her perseverance, make her a source of pride for UNC and a worthy candidate for DTH’s 2023 Athlete of the Year.

- Shelby Swanson, sports editor

Omarion Hampton

Last year, the spotlight was on 2022 ACC Player of the Year Drake Maye and his star receiving duo of future NFL wideouts Josh Downs and Antoine Green. The trio spearheaded UNC’s electric air-raid offense. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s running backs took the backseat — Maye led the team in rushing, while then-first-year Omarion Hampton had to split snaps with Elijah Green.

Hampton’s rookie season wasn’t bad by any means, recording 401 yards and six touchdowns, but the Clayton, N.C., native took a massive leap this year.

Through 12 games in 2023, Hampton ran for 1,442 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry while recording 15 rushing touchdowns — both ACC bests — along with 215 receiving yards and one touchdown catch. Standing at 6-foot, 220 pounds, Hampton was one of the nation’s most difficult players to tackle, leading the country with 1,023 yards after contact.

Sure, after UNC’s red-hot 6-0 start, most fans are disappointed with the football season’s 2-4 closing stretch. But without Hampton’s consistency oftentimes keeping UNC’s offense afloat — Maye’s passing options simply weren’t as formidable as they were last year, and almost every metric shows — it could’ve been much worse for the ever-so-volatile Tar Heels.

- Daniel Wei, assistant sports editor

Fiona Crawley

When one thinks of top programs at UNC, there might be a few that come to mind before tennis. In 2023, Fiona Crawley brought tennis into the limelight in North Carolina, leading the UNC women’s team to its first NCAA Team Championship in program history and winning the NCAA Doubles Championship alongside partner Carson Tanguilig. 

The San Antonio native was coming off an unprecedented 2022 fall season, in which she won the women’s All-American and ITA Fall Championship singles titles, and helped lead Team USA to a 10th title in the Master'U BNP Paribas Championship.

Crawley didn’t slow down in the spring. She played with extreme consistency on the No. 1 court throughout the entirety of team play, ending the regular season as the top-ranked female tennis player in the nation. On top of that, in the 20 singles matches that she played, Crawley only dropped two, bringing her career singles record to 123-11. 

For her efforts during the season, Crawley was awarded with some new hardware to add to her trophy cabinet — clinching 2023 ACC Player of the Year honors and earning the 2023 Honda Award for Tennis.

To cap off her dominant year, Crawley battled her way through the three qualifying rounds of the U.S. Open to earn a bid in the main draw — a testament to her skill and dedication.

- Gwen Peace, assistant sports editor

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@shelbymswanson | @danielhwei | @PeaceGwen

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Shelby Swanson

Shelby Swanson is the 2023-24 sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as an assistant sports editor and senior writer. Shelby is a junior pursuing a double major in media and journalism and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense. 

Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.