NORFOLK, Va. – Here’s a snapshot of the week thus far for Sam Night, a forward on the North Carolina field hockey team:
After helping UNC to an eighth consecutive NCAA field hockey final four berth on Sunday afternoon with a 3-0 win at Maryland, she and the team arrived back in Chapel Hill around 11:30 Sunday night. Monday morning, she successfully defended the honors thesis she’s been working on for the past 10 months. Monday afternoon, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa honorary society. Wednesday she and the rest of the Tar Heels bused to Norfolk, Va., where today they’ll take the turf in the NCAA semifinals, two wins from the sport’s pinnacle, a national championship.
For those of you scoring at home, this is what excelling at the highest levels academically and athletically looks like.
Karen Shelton, in her 36th season as UNC’s field hockey coach, has seen this many times and never tires of it. “Every day I think how lucky I am to be surrounded by these phenomenal young women that are going to change the world,” she said. “They make me incredibly proud.”
Night, a public policy major, started on her thesis in January, around the time UNC reconvened for spring training after last year’s NCAA runner-up finish. Since then she’s spent many, many hours on her thesis, and many, many hours on field hockey. It’s a balancing act all UNC student-athletes know well. “You don’t really have a choice – that’s your life,” Night said. “You’re in the most competitive environment in the classroom but you’re also in the most competitive environment when you go out to practice each day. I really think doing both has served me well.”
Monday morning in a conference room on campus, Night walked through her thesis – Measuring the Human Right to Food: A U.S. Policy Perspective – with her two advisors, Dr. Pam Jagger and Dr. Ben Meier. After presenting for about two hours she left the room for a stressful few minutes while her advisors conversed. Then they called her back in and let her know she’d been successful in her defense. “I was just so relieved,” she said. “I still have to do things they recommended so I’m not by any means done but the big hurdle is over. “
A few hours later, Night was one of 137 UNC undergraduates, five of whom are student-athletes, inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious honors society. Her parents, Susan and Stacy Night, were there for the ceremony at UNC’s Friday Center, as were Shelton and husband Willie Scroggs.
Now Night is preparing for a field hockey hurdle: Friday’s NCAA Tournament semifinals matchup with Connecticut, which is 22-1 on the season. The Tar Heels (19-5) and Huskies face off at 2 p.m. at L.G. Hill Sports Complex, Old Dominion’s home turf. The winner advances to the NCAA Championship game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Although she has one more year of athletic eligibility remaining, Night will earn her undergraduate degree from UNC in December and apply to graduate schools to start her master’s in public policy next fall. She’s one of eight Tar Heels playing their final game – or, hopefully, games – this weekend. They’ve been in the final four each year at UNC, but are still chasing a national championship.
“This is our last weekend together and we want to take care of what we need to take care of, but we’re also looking around and really appreciating every minute we’re here and trying to squeeze the most out of it,” Night said. “There’s a confident and happy vibe, which is awesome.”
While Night is outstanding, she’s not unique. Thursday afternoon, between the team’s midday practice and the final four banquet in the evening, Tar Heels dotted the hotel lobby, studying for pre-Thanksgiving break exams. “I have a chemistry exam on Monday and I’m not going to disregard it just because it’s final four weekend,” said Emma Bozek, a fifth-year senior who has been at the final four each year at UNC. “But I think being able to balance both is what makes us better at our sport, too. We demand excellence in everything we do.”
Bozek is a business major but is considering graduate school to become a physician assistant. The interest in medicine came out of a health crisis – in the summer of 2015 she was found to have a congenital abnormality in her lung that led to infection and resulted in surgery. She was sidelined for all last season but has returned with a vengeance, earning All-ACC honors while serving as a vice captain of the 2016 team.
“Emma is amazing for all she’s achieved, considering what she’s been through,” Shelton said. “They all work so hard and this week is the epitome of what we tell them: You can achieve at the highest levels academically and in field hockey while you’re at UNC. And then it’s wonderful to watch as they go on to great things after they graduate, whether it’s playing on the national team or becoming a neurosurgeon.
“You look at someone like Rachel Dawson – incredibly smart, a business major, a three-time Olympian and now her passion is writing. We’ve had all kinds and it’s really nice to see. I couldn’t be prouder of our group.”
For those of you scoring at home, this is what success looks like.