Wolfpack Women Bring Success Back to the Community

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Photo c/o NCSU Athletics Department



Women’s basketball has seen a surge in popularity the past two seasons, and the North Carolina State University Wolfpack team has played a major part in its growth. The talent has always been there, but women’s sports are finally getting the exposure they deserve.

In the 11 seasons since Wes Moore became their head coach, the Wolfpack women have played in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament eight times, missing out only twice (and the tournament was not held in 2020). 

Of those appearances, they went to the Sweet Sixteen three times, and in 2022 made it to the Elite Eight, losing to the University of Connecticut in double overtime. But after a disappointing loss in the first round of the tournament in 2023, the women started this past season unranked and predicted to finish eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Starting as the underdogs lit a fire under the team. With just five students returning, Coach Moore recruited heavily, bringing in well-rounded, skilled players with an emphasis on teamwork. He says, “You can have great players, but at the end, you are still a team. Our strength was in our balance.” 

The Wolfpack went 14-0 to start the season, including an early win over UConn where returning guard Saniya Rivers had a 33-point game. She says that was when she knew this team was going to be special. And she would know, having won the national championship at the University of South Carolina during her freshman year. She’s grateful for that experience, but Rivers, a native of Wilmington, says she’s happier playing at N.C. State. 

“I feel like more of a contributor. It’s so much fun here. The fans are a major part of our success, filling our stands, supporting us. We always see red in the gym, no matter where we go.” 

Assistant Coach Houston Fancher agrees with this assessment. “We have a rabid, passionate fan base. It’s a big reason for our success. It’s like starting 10 points ahead,” he says. And that successful season got the team an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament this year. 

N.C. State girls' basketball campers wait their turn to play. Photo courtesy of NCSU.

Calling themselves the “party crashers”—seemingly always the underestimated underdogs—the Wolfpack beat higher-ranked Stanford University and the Texas Longhorns in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, respectively. 

It was the first Final Four appearance for everyone involved with the team. “It only took me 35 years to get here. I had to pinch myself when the game [against Texas] was over,” Coach Moore says. 

Despite losing in the semifinals to South Carolina, the eventual winner of the tournament, Coach Moore says it was an unbelievable experience to make it so far—an achievement he spent his career striving for. “I am really proud of our group. It was everything it could be and more.” 

Rivers credits the amazing experience to the way the women gelled as a team. “Coach Moore recruits great people. Not just skilled players, but good, kind people. We are building a sisterhood,” she says. 

And they are extending that sisterhood into the community. Every summer, N.C. State hosts girls ages 8–14 for a basketball camp held on campus. Three years ago, the camp averaged 150 participants. The past two years, the camp had to be capped at 280. 

Coach Fancher says they don’t like turning girls away, but the smaller group allows for more personalized attention. The Wolfpack women are given the option to work the camp, and many love to be counselors. In addition to teaching individual sessions on skills such as defense or ball handling, each counselor is given a team of 10 girls to coach for games.

Wolfpack player and counselor Saniya Rivers coaches campers. Photo c/o NCSU.

Rivers says, “I love giving back, because I [went to] a camp like this. My favorite part is near the end as the kids see their hard work isn’t for nothing. Some kids come in timid, afraid to display what they can do on the court, but they start to gain confidence in themselves.” 

The campers get the full experience of student athletes: sleeping in the dorms, eating in the cafeteria and playing basketball on the court in Reynolds Coliseum, shoulder to shoulder with some of the best players in college basketball. The counselors teach skills beyond the game, such as balancing academics and sports, being part of a team, time management and celebrating others’ success. 

And while it’s hard work, they make time for fun contests—swimming, TikTok reels, dancing and singing. Most importantly, the girls are building relationships—making long-lasting friendships beyond camp, not just with girls their age, but also the Wolfpack women they see on screen.

Rivers says, “We’re not trying to make basketball players; we’re trying to make good people. And after they come to camp, they know they have a big sister at N.C. State.” 

The Wolfpack women will start the 2024 season with a rematch versus South Carolina in the Ally Tipoff event at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte on November 10.  

Check out more from around the Triangle at midtownmag.com.

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