CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (BP)–Just a few weeks ago, University of North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell was hoping her team could finish strong enough to have a winning record. Now they are in the Sweet 16.
Analysts point to the return of star player Nikki Teasley, who missed three weeks due to personal matters, as the key. No doubt that is crucial, but there is more to the story.
“The adversity we went through without Nikki has brought us so much closer together,” Hatchell said the morning of March 21 from Santa Barbara, Calif., where the Tar Heels defeated Rice 83-50 the night before. “We appreciate winning more. We appreciate each other more, and we are more thankful for the opportunities we have.
“Through adversity you become stronger, and those young kids who were thrown into the fire when Nikki was out have helped us so much and have pushed the other players,” said Hatchell, a member of Cresset Baptist Church, Durham, N.C.
The team won just one game without Teasley, a 6-0 point guard who can drive, pull up, dish the ball, rebound and defend. When Carolina was down and out of the Top 25, everyone else was hitting their peak.
“Most everybody plays their best about the end of January or first of February,” Hatchell said. “We were a month late, so timing has a lot to do with our success. We’re peaking now, and it’s perfect timing.”
The Lady Tar Heels look very strong physically, clearly outrunning Rice and their first victim, Maine, whom they defeated 62-57 Saturday. The team is physically stronger late in the year than most teams she has had, Hatchell said. That is in large part due to the rigorous conditioning the coach insists upon year-round. Her discipline comes from her Christian values.
“You’re not going to win championships without discipline,” said Hatchell, whose team won the ’94 NCAA title and has been to the Sweet 16 seven of the past eight seasons. “You’ve got to have chemistry and discipline. Young people want it. Without a doubt, they want it.”
Hatchell’s faith in Jesus Christ was her guide as she led Teasley through her personal difficulties this season. Her faith is evident to her other players, many of whom share it.
“A Christian must implement in everything they do Christlike principles,” Hatchell said. “It’s a way of life. I run my program by Christian principles. We run our family by Christian principles. Everything I do is based on Christian principles. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, Christ is the center of it.”
Hatchell even consults the Bible to motivate her team. Continuing to advance will require pulling at least one upset. Saturday’s foe, in Portland, Ore., is the top seed in the west, Georgia.
“I’ll just tell the team to go play the game they way they’ve been playing it lately,” Hatchell said. “Leave it all on the court. Go out there and give it all you’ve got. I tell them, ‘We’re a good team and your confidence will be richly rewarded.’ We have the confidence that we can do any job.
“I’ll tell them, ‘When David saw Goliath, he thought, ‘He’s so big I can’t miss him.’ Everybody else thought, ‘Oh, no, he’s so big I can’t kill him.’ But negative thoughts get you beat.’
“We don’t think negative. We believe we can win because we believe we can overcome, and we have overcome.”
Lee, of Wake Forest, N.C., is a columnist with Crosswalk.com, a Christian news and information Internet site, and with Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. Lee also serves as national coordinator of sports evangelism for the North American Mission Board.