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Achieving New Heights

The Wolfpack women's basketball team won its third straight ACC championship Sunday, completing the first back-to-back-to-back sweep in program history.

NC State women's basketball team poses together after winning the 2022 ACC Championship
The NC State women's basketball team celebrates after winning the 2022 ACC Championship. Photo by Chris Downey/NC State Athletics.

Standing on top of the world can be both lonely and exhausting — especially for a prolonged period of time.

That’s the way NC State women’s basketball coach Wes Moore and his players sometimes felt in their pursuit of a third consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championship, something that had never been done in program history.

Even with a remarkable four months of success, in which the team won its first regular-season ACC title in 32 years by winning 17 of 18 league games, the Wolfpack women might have been playing well, but not everything was hunky dory with his veteran team.

“We went through a lull maybe middle of January, early February, where I just felt like they were kind of over me,” Moore says. “They were like, ‘Let’s just get to March [and the postseason].

“Would this guy just shut up for a minute?’”

Moore rarely keeps quiet, though, and he kept right on coaching his team, telling them his groan-worthy dad jokes and preparing them for another run into March Madness.

Coach Wes Moore on the sidelines of Sunday's ACC Championship game.
NC State coach Wes Moore on the sidelines of the Wolfpack’s ACC Tournament semifinal matchup against Virginia Tech. Photo by Chris Downey/NC State Athletics.

Sunday in Greensboro—about the same time the NC State wrestling program won its fourth consecutive ACC title—Moore and the Wolfpack women won another championship, beating Miami 60-47 in the championship game to complete the back-to-back-to-back sweep for the first time in program history. It’s the seventh ACC championship in women’s basketball history.

No one said it would be easy.

“Honestly,” says star senior center Elissa Cunane, “it’s a long season. We start in June or July and we go into April. It’s just tough sometimes with school loaded on top of us and then game-after-game, practice-after-practice. We get tired of each other.

“I’ll be honest, I get sick of seeing some people’s faces.”

Yet, that’s what makes the current three-peat so special.

“All of sudden, a couple of weeks ago, practice started being fun again,” Moore says. “I saw a lot of energy, and they were more focused.”

They overcame three losses to top 20 teams and now head into the NCAA Championships, which begin on March 16, on a 10-game winning streak. Pairings for the NCAA Championships will be announced Sunday on ESPN, with the No. 3 Wolfpack preparing to host its first- and second-round games at Reynolds Coliseum.

NC State's star center Alissa Cunane makes a layup during the 2022 ACC Championship finals.
NC State’s star center Alissa Cunane makes a layup during the 2022 ACC Championship finals. Photo by Chris Downey/NC State Athletics.

There are constant worries, of course. Cunane turned her ankle in the second half of Sunday’s game and had to leave the floor for evaluation, with the fear the injury might be serious. She returned to the sidelines in the fourth quarter, sitting on an exercise cycle to stay active, with a towel draped around her neck.

With 6:56 remaining in the game, she re-entered the lineup to a huge ovation by the overwhelmingly Wolfpack-friendly crowd of 9,253 at the coliseum. Playing just a few miles from her hometown of Summerfield, Cunane finished with a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds and, for the second consecutive year, was named the tournament’s most valuable player. It’s the eighth time in league history a player has won back-to-back MVP titles.

It’s a fledgling dynasty for the Wolfpack, something Cunane and three graduate seniors hoped to accomplish when they first suited up for Moore and decided to keep playing through pandemic restrictions that cost them the opportunity to play in the 2020 NCAA Championships. The Pack lost in the Sweet Sixteen of last year’s tournament and hope to advance further this season.

“I saw potential in this program,” says Cunane, who is scheduled to graduate in May, along with graduate students Raina Perez, Kai Crutchfield and Kayla Jones. “We were hoping to take it to new heights. For three years, it’s been pretty amazing.

“I think it speaks highly of who we have in charge as head coach.”

Even if she can’t stand to see his face every now and then.