FINDER drops in fall, which is the second-best time to be a sports fan in the Triangle. The best time, obviously, is March, assuming things go the right way for whichever shade of blue you prefer. 

For now, let’s talk about college football. None of our local squads will be playing for the championship come January, but you don’t have to squint too hard to see light on the horizon.  

Out in Chapel Hill, Mack is back. Mack Brown, probably the greatest coach in University of North Carolina history, has returned to the UNC sidelines, and his tenure kicked off with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami—followed by losses to Wake Forest and App State, then a painfully close miss against Clemson. In Raleigh, the N.C. State Wolfpack also hit the gridiron strong, thumping Eastern Carolina and Western Carolina before dropping a game to Ball State. Duke, meanwhile, hung in with Alabama for the first half of a game, which is something. The N.C. Central Eagles struggled in their first three games, but they’re a marquee program among HBCUs, and O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is always a good time no matter their record. 

You know who might be playing for a title this year? UNC’s women’s field hockey. They’re the reigning champs, after all. Also, UNC’s women’s soccer program, which has won an astonishing twenty out of twenty-seven ACC championships and twenty-two out of thirty-six possible national championships since the program started in 1979. Down the road, the Blue Devils’ women’s soccer team isn’t bad, either. 

Speaking of women’s soccer: Our professional women’s soccer team, North Carolina Courage—which had several members on the team that won the World Cup—just clinched their third-consecutive National Women’s Soccer League Shield, an award given to the team with the best regular-season record. As this magazine goes to press, the Courage are set to host a semifinal match on their home field in Cary—where the NWSL championship will be held, as well. The Courage were the NWSL’s runners-up in 2017 and the champions in 2018. 

Their male counterparts, North Carolina FC, didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2018, their first season in the USL Championship. The 2019 season saw improvement; headed into the final weeks of the regular season, NCFC appears on pace to make the postseason.

Though the nearest pro football team is two hours west of here, we’ve got plenty of other professional sports in our neck of the woods. Start with the Carolina Hurricanes, our local hockey team, which went largely ignored—hockey isn’t a traditional Southern thing—until our Bunch of Jerks came out of nowhere to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019. (They were promptly demolished by the Boston Bruins, but let’s ignore that.) 

Then there’s minor league baseball, most notably the Durham Bulls, made famous by the movie Bull Durham. The Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, the Bulls are one of the most successful teams in the minors, having won three International League Governor’s Cups in the last decade (they lost the title series in 2019). Out in Zebulon, the single-A Carolina Mudcats—best known for either a cameo in Space Jam or giving up Michael Jordan’s first homer, or perhaps for their quirky merch and weird logo—offer nights of family fun on the cheap. 

The Raleigh Rugby Football Club ( has both men’s (the Vipers) and women’s (the Venom) teams. The Venom have placed second in USA Rugby’s Senior Women’s Division I South in 2017 and 2018. The Vipers play in two different leagues, both of which run from late September through April. And if you’re into nontraditional rough-and-tumble sports, check out Carolina Roller Derby, a Raleigh-based nonprofit with three teams—the Chapel Thrillers, Durham Crash, and Raleigh Ruckus—of local skaters who compete to join two inter-league teams that vie against skaters from other cities. You won’t find a banked track or staged theatrics here; just hard hits, solid blocks, and lots of strategy and precision.

If you’re more a doer than a viewer, you’re never far from a pickup hoops game, and flag football abounds on weekend mornings at N.C. State’s Centennial Fields and Cary’s Mills Park facilities. And if your athletic hunger is better sated by something more esoteric—say, Ultimate Frisbee or kayaking—check out, which is often the best option for finding like-minded athletes. If you’re into rock climbing, check out the indoor facility at one of the Triangle Rock Clubs. If you’re a runner, there are a ton of running clubs, too; check out Bull City Running Co. ( or the Raleigh Distance Project ( to get started. 

See, there’s plenty happening that’s not NCAA basketball. But since you’ve stuck around this long, we’ll talk basketball, particularly the two local men’s basketball goliaths.

In March 2019, you might recall, the loaded-for-bear Duke team lost to Michigan State by a point in the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils lost superstar freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett to the NBA, but, as they do, they reloaded, and they’re ranked third in the preseason polls. 

UNC, meanwhile, lost in the Sweet Sixteen to Auburn. Headed into the 2019–20 season, they’re ranked thirteenth. 

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