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UNCW’s Top-10 sports moments of 2018

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UNCW’s Top-10 sports moments of 2018

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Noah Powers/The Seahawk

Brandon Sans and Noah Powers

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2018 was a big year for UNC Wilmington Athletics. Championships were won, athletes were honored and records were broken. With so many memorable moments for UNCW in the last year, it’s difficult to chalk up a list of only 10, but there were a few that stood out.

Here are 2018’s top 10 moments for UNCW Athletics…

10. ‘Icehawks’ join Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League

Following a 14-2-1 season, it was announced in March of this year that the UNC Wilmington club hockey team would join the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II as a member of the Atlantic Coast Collegiate Hockey League, stepping up from its previous Division III spot.

The ‘Icehawks’ joined the Carolina East Division with fellow-North Carolina schools Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State.

In its first season as a member of the ACCHL, the Icehawks have started 1-4 in conference play dropping games to Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, George Washington and North Carolina. UNCW picked up a 6-4 conference win over West Virginia on Oct. 6.

9. Lacey Suggs named preseason all-CAA

 Before the start of the 2018 season, junior guard Lacey Suggs was named to the preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association team as an honorable mention.

Suggs had a breakout season in 2017-18, averaging 11.8 points per game and scoring in double figures in 67 percent of contests. She also had a team-high, scoring 20 points in five contests.

The junior was named Second-Team All-State last season, also finishing ranked no. 14 in the conference.

Through eight contests this season, Suggs has scored in double figures twice, including a 16-point show out against Belmont Abbey to start the season.

8. Lyberty Anderson’s back-to-back CAA championships

Back in April, senior Lyberty Anderson won her second Colonial Athletic Association individual title in a row. She is one of just two women’s golfers in CAA history to repeat as champion in back-to-back years.

After going one-over-par on the final nine holes of the tournament with a 37, Anderson moved to the top of the leaderboard, clinching the championship for herself.

Anderson led the Seahawks to a fifth-place finish, with the team carding an overall 937 with 324 in the final round of play.

7. Men’s tennis wins back-to-back CAA titles for the second time in six years

 In April, UNCW men’s tennis won its second back-to-back CAA title in six years.

 The pairings of Raphael Calzi and Ignasi de Rueda, and Andres Torres and Michael Morphy won UNCW the doubles point before junior Agustin Savarino, sophomore Daniel Groom and sophomore Rueda would give the Seahawks the singles victories needed for the win.

The Seahawks, who entered the tournament as a 3-seed, downed top-seeded William and Mary 4-2, crowning them CAA champs for the fourth time in six years.

6. Chris Neal proves successful in first-year as women’s soccer bench boss

 After a scandal which culminated in the dismissal of 22-year UNCW women’s soccer coach Paul Cairney, the fate of UNCW women’s soccer was uncertain.

Former Elon head coach Chris Neal was called back to his alma mater nearly a month before the start of the 2018 campaign, and the results of his first season as UNCW head coach were surprising to many. Despite having such a short time to prepare for the season, the Seahawks were able to start on a 6-1 run, eventually finishing with a 9-6-1 record, and losing only once at home.

Given the circumstances of Neal’s hasty hire and Hurricane Florence, along with notable wins over VCU, UNC Greensboro and Cleveland State, to call Neal’s first season at UNCW “a success” would be an understatement.

5. Top 25ers in men’s basketball

 Top 25 opponents are few and far between for UNCW men’s basketball, so it may come as a shock to hear that the Seahawks took on three before the end of December. The 2018-19 season marked the first time in nearly a decade that UNCW took on more than one ranked opponent in a single season.

On Oct. 27, the Seahawks took on then-no. 22 Clemson in a charity exhibition set to benefit those impacted by Hurricane Florence. Prior to this season, the last top 25 team to play in Trask Coliseum was no. 21 UNC Charlotte on Jan. 6, 1992, in a contest which UNCW lost 99-89 in overtime.

UNCW would later play back-to-back ranked matchups against no. 14 North Carolina on Dec. 5 and no. 23 Furman on Dec. 15. The Seahawks would fall in both contests 97-69 and 93-50 respectively.

The 2010-11 campaign was the last time the ‘Hawks matched up with multiple ranked opponents. UNCW took on a ninth-ranked Florida squad and a fourth-ranked Ohio State team just eight days apart. The Seahawks lost to the Gators 77-60 on Nov. 12 before falling to OSU 81-41 on Nov. 20.

4. Men’s soccer hosts College Cup first-round game 

 After a season of ups and downs following Hurricane Florence, the UNCW men’s soccer team was able to muster a 12-4-2 finish to the regular season. And after a loss to Hofstra in the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, the Seahawks were left in uncertainty regarding their potential post-season hopes.

On selection day, however, it was announced that those 12 wins were enough to not only secure the ‘Hawks a spot in the NCAA tournament but allow them to play host in the first round. UNCW welcomed Furman to Seahawk Country, where the match would end in a 0-0 tie to be decided by penalty kicks, which the Paladins would win 5-3.

3. Cacok’s rebounding record

 Devontae Cacok has proven game-after-game that he can grab boards. Which is why it came as no shock when Cacok broke the UNCW single-game rebounding record with 24 against Drexel on Jan. 21, 2017. This broke the previous record of 21 set by Keith Rendleman in 2013.

On Jan. 25, 2018, just a year after setting the new rebounding record, Cacok managed to hit 24 boards once again, this time against James Madison.

This season, Cacok set the bar higher, recording 26 boards in the Seahawks’ 113-74 win over Allen on Nov. 18.

The senior is also on track to surpass Rendleman for career double-doubles. Cacok currently sits at 41, needing two more to knock off Rendleman who holds the no. 2 spot for all-time double-doubles with 42. And with three more games left in 2018, Cacok could very well jump to number two on the list before year’s end. He would then trail only Brian Rowsom who had 50 as a Seahawk.

2. McGrath’s homecoming

It’s not often that UNCW gets to show out on national television, but the Seahawks did just that on Dec. 5 against a, then, no. 14-ranked North Carolina team. And to make the matchup that much sweeter, Chapel Hill welcomed UNCW head coach C.B. McGrath home after a 14-year stint at Carolina as an assistant under UNC coach Roy Williams.

McGrath’s time at Carolina came to a close in 2017 when he replaced Kevin Keatts as the Seahawks’ head coach. This ended a 23-year stretch where McGrath had either played or coached under Williams at both Kansas and North Carolina.

The Seahawks competed in the 2017 Disaster Relief Jamboree, which the Tar Heels hosted, but this was the first time since leaving UNC that McGrath coached a regular season contest in the Dean Smith Center — this time on the opposing bench.

The ‘Hawks trailed only nine at the half, but the Tar Heels would pull away in the final 20 minutes, downing UNCW 97-69.

1. Diamondhawks take CAA crown

UNCW baseball won its fifth CAA title in history in May of this year. The Seahawks downed Delaware, Elon and Northeastern twice to take the championship, finishing 4-1 in the tournament.

This also earned the Seahawks an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament, where they took part in the Greenville Regional along with host East Carolina, South Carolina and Ohio State.

UNCW would fall to East Carolina 16-7 in day one of the regional, sending the ‘Hawks to the loser’s bracket. Day two would pit the Seahawks against Ohio State, which UNCW would win 4-3 in 13 innings.

On day three, the Seahawks once again took on ECU. The Pirates took a 5-0 lead through four-and-a-half innings before the ‘Hawks would bring home nine runs in the bottom of the fifth mounting a 9-5 lead from which the Pirates would never recover. UNCW would move on to the regional final to take on South Carolina.

The Seahawks needed two wins over USC to move on, but would not make it past the first matchup, falling to the Gamecocks 8-4.

Bonus: Seahawks respond in Hurricane Florence aftermath

Hurricane Florence’s impact was felt far and wide across the Carolina coasts including within UNCW’s sports programs.

In the middle of their second-straight run to the College Cup, the men’s soccer team was displaced from UNCW Soccer Stadium due to the storm. The team was able to convene in other North Carolina cities but did not play a game in Wilmington for over a month.

Midnite Madness was canceled and both basketball programs were forced to begin its practices in Chapel Hill with assistance from its respective UNC program counterparts. The Seahawk wrote about other changes Florence caused to the athletic calendar here.

The storm tested the strength of Seahawks of all sorts and reminded everyone about the rewards perseverance and commitment can bring. It was beautiful to witness coaches, players, fans and others come together when all that was left to do was just that.

Bring on 2019.

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UNCW’s Top-10 sports moments of 2018