In brief, the atmosphere was electric with anticipation. Carmichael Auditorium was about as full as it's been in years--clear up to the rafters--and the crowd was terrific. And if you were there, how could you not be impressed by what you saw on the court? What athletes! It looked like every last one of them could have jumped out of the building. And talk about power and finesse blended into a perfect package. I don't mind telling you, I was in awe.
To be honest, I guess I wasn't fully prepared for what I'd see. Sure, I'd read all the advance press and seen the scouting reports. But I was skeptical. You know how it is. If you're a sports fan, you know that what you see on paper doesn't mean a thing until you see it in action. Well, those in attendance on Friday night saw it, and it was a sight to behold.
In my mind, what was most striking was the level of competition. Again, with the athleticism on the court, I suppose it's fair to say that there were some high expectations. But we all know the cliches. Once you put the ball in play, what's happened in the past doesn't matter--for better or for worse, it's all about the present. Friends, I'm here to tell you the present looks mighty fine. Sure, the uniforms are a little odd this year, what with the odd extra color thrown in with the jerseys, and those new shoes the players were wearing looked like throwback space boots from old black-and-white Buck Rogers clips. But aside from that minor distraction, I couldn't have been more impressed by how the team got after it. To a player, you could tell these kids love to compete and hate to lose. You could see the drive every time they dove to the floor, rose up for a blocked shot, or talked a little playful smack during breaks.
Let me tell you, the talent level is definitely there. The shots look nice, and the passing looked even better. I was particularly impressed by the transition game. It's been a while since I have seen that much quickness and agility on the court. There was probably more offense than defense, but I think that has to be expected. Beyond that, I really didn't see anything to complain about.
I know you might like to hear more about individual performances, but I must say that hardly seems appropriate. This is a team game we're talking about, and what matters most is how this team comes together. I watched closely to detect any sign of chemistry problems, and I am delighted to say that I saw none. Sure, there are some young guns ready to challenge the upperclassmen for minutes--but I just don't see that as a cause for concern. There is court time for everyone, and they all seem to know it. So they just went out and played their games. It bodes well for what's to come.
As an aside, I can't begin to say what a delight it was to see the students filling the lower bowl of the arena and taking up most of the seats in the place. It was loud, man, and not to be a bad sport, but I love it when the crowd gets a little rowdy--not in a disrespectful way, but in that way where you can tell the fans know the game and are really into it. There was more fan creativity in evidence on Friday night than I have seen or heard in years in Chapel Hill. Seriously, people who weren't there missed their chance to see why Tar Heel fans are the best in the biz. It was the kind of crowd where you knew they were absolutely linked to what was going on the court. You could tell the players loved it, too. And did they ever put on a show. I'm telling you, get your tickets while you can.
I know we sportswriters aren't supposed to get attached to our subjects, but I have to confess I am absolutely hooked. Friday night was a revelation. It reminded me of all the reasons people love Carolina sports. And I'm here to make a bold prediction. I know there's a danger in expecting too much too soon, but I'm high on adrenaline and ready to lay it on the line. Carolina will win a national championship. This team has what it takes to get it done.
So take heart, ladies and gentlemen. If you're looking for the spark to fire up these cool nights of late fall, I think we have found the recipe for excitement in the Smith Center. Not just when Duke or State comes to town, but every single night.
Fill up the arena. And serve me up a heaping helping of Carolina's women's volleyball.
You can email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.