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The Daily Tar Heel

Looking ahead at UNC's fall sports in 2024

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UNC senior back Romea Riccardo (11) hits the ball during the NCAA field hockey championship game against Northwestern.

It’s no secret that athletics are an integral part of the North Carolina experience, and the fall season provides the perfect opportunity for first-years to immerse themselves in the rich athletic culture in Chapel Hill. 

Here is a rundown of each team ahead of the fall season:

Football

Following a 2-5 end to last season after beginning the year 6-0, the North Carolina football team is looking to bounce back. Head coach Mack Brown will enter this year without star quarterback Drake Maye, who was the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and will play for the New England Patriots. Brown has yet to name a starter for the 2024 season, with sophomore Conner Harrell, graduate transfer Max Johnson and junior transfer Jacolby Criswell all competing for the starting job. 

Criswell’s return to Chapel Hill during the second transfer window of the spring season adds another wrinkle for Brown. In Criswell’s two years as a Tar Heel from 2020-22, he lost the quarterback battle to Maye and transferred to Arkansas, where he threw for 143 yards and three touchdowns

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Sophomore quarterback Jacolby Criswell (6) carries the ball at the game against Wofford on Nov. 20 at Kenan Stadium. UNC won 34-14.

On the defensive side of the ball, Brown replaced defensive coordinator Gene Chizik with Geoff Collins. Collins previously served as Georgia Tech’s head coach from 2019-22. Collins will likely rely on the veteran presence of graduate rusher Kaimon Rucker to lead the defense this fall following the departure of linebacker Cedric Gray for the NFL.

Women’s Soccer

The women’s soccer team fell just three games short of completing their goal of winning its 23rd national championship in 2023 in a stunning loss to BYU. The Tar Heels fell 4-3 after leading 3-0 at the half. After the season ended, 24 of the 33 players entered the transfer portal or departed the program via the NWSL Draft or graduation, leaving legendary head coach Anson Dorrance left to rebuild.

UNC WOMEN'S SOCCER
UNC senior midfielder/forward Avery Patterson (15) at the women's soccer game versus Notre Dame at Dorrance Field on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. UNC tied Notre Dame 1-1. Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications/Ainsley Fauth.

During the offseason, Dorrance has begun to reestablish his roster, and according to TopDrawerSoccer, has the No. 12 recruiting class in the country that features two top-55 recruits in Ashley Pennie and Linda Ullmark. Despite the turmoil that ensued at the conclusion of the season, it is likely that the Tar Heels will still have one of the top teams in the country.

Men’s Soccer

Last season, the UNC men’s soccer team exceeded expectations, as the program entered the season unranked and then earned the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, falling one game short of the College Cup

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UNC sophomore midfielder Sam Williams (7) fights for possession of the ball during the quarterfinals of the NCAA men’s division one soccer tournament against Oregon State on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, at Dorrance Field. UNC loses 0-1.

With the departures of midfielder Ernest Bawa, defender Matt Edwards and forward Quenzi Huerman, head coach Carlos Somoano will look to rely on graduate forward Martin Vician, who finished last season tied with Huerman as UNC’s leading goal scorer with 10 goals. Vician will help to keep the Tar Heels as a contender in both the ACC and NCAA tournament.  

Field Hockey

In her first season as the North Carolina head coach, Erin Matson continued the dominant reign of the North Carolina field hockey program. The Tar Heels finished the season 18-3 and defeated Northwestern in a shootout to win the program's 11th national title. 

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UNC sophomore midfielder/forward Ryleigh Heck (12) celebrates her winning shot during the NCAA field hockey championship game against Northwestern. UNC won in penalty shootouts with a score of 3-2.

Rising junior forward Ryleigh Heck played an integral part of North Carolina’s success last year, scoring the winning penalty shot in the national championship. During the 2023 season, Heck tallied 13 goals and eight assists, and will be a key leader as the Tar Heels look to defend their national title. 

Volleyball

After finishing the season 13-14 in head coach Mike Schall’s first season in charge, the UNC volleyball team will look to lean on the veteran experience of senior outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster and graduate outside hitter Emani’ Foster

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UNC junior outside hitter Mabrey Shaffmaster (9) hitting the ball in the Friday, Sept. 22 22, 2023 game against the University of Virginia. UNC beat UVA with a score of 3-0.

Along with Shaffmaster and Foster, sophomore Safi Hampton made significant strides last season and became a reliable outside hitter for the Tar Heels. For UNC to compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament, Hampton likely will provide the team with another dimension offensively. 

@mdmaynard74

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