ACC Tip Off media event featured players, coaches and high hopes for the upcoming season, including all four teams from North Carolina.
Two are favored to have success this season, while two others could fly under the radar. Here are takeaways from their time in Charlotte.
North Carolina boasts strong chemistry
A lot of teams talk about the importance of chemistry and getting along, and the Tar Heels feel like they’ve taken that to a new level this season – even with three transfers and five freshmen.
It’s done activities like wiffle ball tournaments, played Pictionary and had team dinners at head coach Courtney Banghart’s house. Banghart implemented communication and conflict management training, teaching her players through role play situations, evaluating different situations and reading Jon Gordon’s international bestseller, “Energy Bus,” together.
Senior Alyssa Ustby said all of the team building activities and intentional conversations have created the strongest Tar Heel team she’s been on.
North Carolina is ranked No. 16 in the AP Preseason Top 25 poll and No. 17 in the coaches poll. Banghart said she thinks her squad is a top 10 team. It will need skill, a little bit of luck and a strong bond to meet expectations. So far, it’s on track.
“I think that speaks to how coach Banghart has been recruiting, because those are the types of kids that she’s been recruiting. Those are the transfers that she’s looking for,” Ustby said. “We just have a lot of great human beings, so that makes everything so much easier when you have girls who have good morals, they have like good standards for themselves. That just elevates the program.”
NC State enjoys its underdog status
All but two ACC teams finished the 2022-23 season with an overall record at or above .500, speaking to the strength of the conference. N.C. State landed at 8th, going 20-12 and 9-9 in league play.
The Pack feels good about the upcoming season, bringing in four top 100 recruits – including No. 9 overall Zoe Brooks – and Katie Peneueta, one of the top players in the Big Sky Conference last season.
N.C. State went unranked in the coaches and AP polls, though it received votes in both. The team landed just outside of the AP preseason top 25, landing at No. 27. It’s OK with that, though.
“Being not ranked can be dangerous, just because we could have a chip on our shoulder,” senior guard Madison Haynes said. “We have nothing to lose. We could just go out there and have fun and win.”
Junior guard Saniya Rivers agreed, saying she thinks people will regret overlooking the Pack. It beat Iowa and Louisville on the road last season, both of whom made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. She won received the league’s Sixth Player of the Year award.
“We’re definitely the underdogs right now. You know, what they say about underdogs, like they come out swinging,” Rivers said. “We’re not happy that we’re not ranked as high, but we’re gonna get there. We’re gonna shock a lot of people this year, and we’re gonna upset some teams.”
Duke accepts new start
Wins don’t carry over from last season but neither do losses, and Duke has a chance to do great things once again.
The Blue Devils’ roster features four freshmen and a couple of transfers, while losing five to the portal. Its biggest departure came by way of ACC Defensive Player of the Year Celeste Taylor.
“One of the exciting things is that there is so much new,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said. “I think we’re still figuring it out in terms of where we can be most effective as a team, how we can be most effective as a team on both ends, where our strengths are, and still developing that chemistry together.”
Senior center Kennedy Brown doesn’t feel like there’s pressure to compete with last year’s group. Instead, the Blue Devils want this squad to be its own special unit that’s defined by energy and effort.
“(We’re) young, athletic, competitive, energetic,” Brown said. “When you put that all together, it brings a lot to the table. Ultimately, I think this team just loves to compete. That’s been a really fun part of this summer – in this preseason – so far is just competing against each other and pushing one another.”
Wake Forest trends up
Megan Gebbia enters her second year at the helm for the Demon Deacons after going 17-17 overall and 5-13 in ACC play. She feels more settled into the role and her roster features fewer newcomers.
Gebbia said she’s pleased with the 17 wins – though the WNIT team’s performance (an 80-63 second-round home loss to Florida) left something to be desired – calling Year 1 a good year. Not bad but not great.
She brought in four freshmen, including two players from the ESPN top 100, and returned seven upperclassmen.
“They have brought the level of energy up in practice every day, which is really nice because they weren’t here last year,” Gebbia said. “They have nothing to compare it to. They’re just coming in nervous, but also excited, and really competing for playing time. They’re forcing everyone else to compete harder in practice, which is elevating the program.”
The Deacs are one of the other underdogs in the league, even more than the Wolfpack. Gebbia said she’s been an underdog for most of her career, so she’s comfortable with it. That said, her expectations and hopes are high.
“I look forward to the day where we’re not, and that takes time,” Gebbia said. “It’s a build, and it’s hard because you’re competing against the best coaches in the country and the best teams in the country. You’ve got to stay the course but you also kind of need to be lucky a little bit in some areas, whether it’s officiating, games, recruiting.”