The Wolfpacker

May-June 2020

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 23 of 51

24 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY MATT CARTER s of Jan. 16, 2020, NC State was tied with Bos- ton College for 15th place in the Learfield IMG Col- lege Directors' Cup stand- ings. There would be no further updates in the standings after the colle- giate athletics world was stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic. NC State was certain for a jump in the rankings. Wrestling and women's basket- ball had won ACC titles in March and were likely to have strong postseason finishes. Men's swimming also took home a confer- ence crown while the women were second, and both were headed to likely top-10, if not top-five, finishes at nationals. The burgeoning tennis programs were locks to leave their marks, as the women had reached as high as No. 3 nationally in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rank- ings, while the men had climbed to No. 6. Kevin Keatts' men's basketball team ap- peared on the cusp of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Softball was off to its best start in school history (19-6) after sweeping Notre Dame, one of the bet- ter teams in the conference, in its opening ACC series. Baseball was nationally ranked and 14-3. It will never be known how high NC State could have climbed in the final standings, but the potential was there for a banner year of Wolfpack athletics. The fall saw women's cross country win a conference title and finish fifth at nationals. Women's soccer made the Sweet 16 for the third time in four years, and both men's soccer and men's cross country made it to the postseason. While difficult to single out a select few, here are The Wolfpacker's honors for the school year: Coach Of The Year Both wrestling's Pat Popolizio and swim- ming's Braden Holloway are superstars in their respective sports, and this past year only enhanced that fact. Both tennis coaches Simon Earnshaw (women's) and Kyle Spen- cer (men's) did historic work with their pro- grams, and women's cross country is on a trajectory to potentially compete for future national championships under Laurie Henes. However, the nod goes to Wes Moore of the women's bas- ketball team. Moore has the Pack on the edge of being an elite national pro- gram. NC State e n t e r e d t h i s y e a r h a v - ing gone to three straight NCAA Tour- naments and reaching the S w e e t 1 6 i n each of the last two seasons — and some would argue the team was a few questionable calls at Texas in 2017 from it being three Sweet 16s in a row. In those three years prior to this season, NC State went a combined 77-24 overall (.762 winning percentage) and 35-13 in the ACC (.729). Last year was the first time the program finished in the na- tion's top 10 (No. 10 in the coaches' poll and No. 9 per the writers) since the Final Four team Hall of Famer Kay Yow had in 1998. This year topped all those campaigns. NC State was at one point considered a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tourna- ment before a brief rough patch late in the season. However, the Wolfpack rebounded to win the ACC Tournament, and it was No. 8 in both the final coaches' and writ- ers' polls. Among its 28 wins was a non- conference triumph over likely No. 1 seed Maryland. A A BANNER , ABBREVIATED YEAR Ikem Ekwonu became the first true freshman to start at offensive tackle for NC State since 2010, and went on to be named a Freshman All-American and second-team All-ACC performer by Pro Football Focus. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN The Top Superlatives From A Strong Season Of Wolfpack Athletics

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