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UWF basketball head coach reflects on 1994 national championship

Stephanie Lawrence Yelton reflects on 20-year anniversary of championship and trip to Chapel Hill

UWF women
UWF women's basketball head coach Stephanie Lawrence-Yelton went back to Chapel Hill, N.C. for the 20th anniversary of the 1994 national championship.

On April 3, 1994, the University of North Carolina women’s basketball earned the program’s first national championship on a last-second three-pointer from Charlotte Smith. Trailing by two with 0.7 seconds on the clock, UWF women’s basketball head coach Stephanie Lawrence Yelton inbounded the ball to Smith on the right wing. The play is widely regarded as the greatest play in NCAA women’s basketball postseason history. The following account is a recollection of Yelton’s experience on the 20-year anniversary of the 1994 NCAA Women’s National Championship.

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UNC 1994 National Championship Reunion Video

As I drove north on I-85, so many memories surrounding the 1994 national championship began to flood my mind. It was a special year, a very special season -- one that will tie me to my teammates forever.

Although the basketball season ended with a three-point shot at the buzzer, it would only be the beginning of a lifetime bond to be shared with a group of very special individuals.

When I looked around the room at all of my college graduate teammates, I saw two doctors, a dentist, a teacher, a social worker, seven coaches, two sports analysts, an athletic director, three business owners and 12 mothers. The connection and love each of these women has for one another is indescribable.

Throughout the course of the past 20 years, each member of this team has experienced the ups and downs of life: from weddings to divorce, from births to deaths, from career advancements to job losses, from severe illnesses to great fortune. Through it all, these women have remained united to pray, encourage, laugh and cry with one another.

I know these women will always be an instrumental part of my life and I am honored and grateful to call them my sisters.

The weekend began with a welcome reception for our coaches, players, team managers, student assistants, athletic trainers, strength coaches, support personnel, athletic administrative staff, as well as the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina. We greeted each other with hugs and smiles. It was a time of fellowship and a chance to catch up on life.

I found it to be even more exciting that the 1994 national championship game was being looped on televisions throughout the restaurant. Many of us had not seen the entire game in years, while some of our guests had only seen that final 00:00.7 seconds of the game. It was not uncommon to pause during the middle of a conversation to watch an exciting play or a critical moment during the game.

The next morning, we gathered at Carmichael Auditorium, which was our ‘home away from home’ during our collegiate careers. Although Carmichael has had a face-lift since our departure, it still felt like home. I can remember many hours of blood, sweat and tears that were left on that court. It was the one place where we all had the same goal, where we developed that deep passion for one another.

While at Carmichael, we were able to roam around the building to see the new additions and upgrades made to the facility in recent years as well as watch the current Tar Heels prepare for their game against Miami.

After practice, we ate lunch with the current team and had a special appearance by our leader and head coach Sylvia Hatchell, who is fighting a personal battle with leukemia this season. We were instructed the night before that Coach Hatchell could only make a few appearances for the weekend because her health was not as good as her doctor had anticipated.

She had to avoid crowds and the potential of catching a cold could be detrimental to her recovery. Not being able to hug my coach was the most difficult part of the weekend.

After lunch, we were whisked away to the Dean Smith Center to watch the UNC men’s basketball team play N.C. State as our team was honored at halftime. We were VIP guests in the Smith Center and were greeted by fans with a standing ovation during the halftime presentation. I had the honor of holding the crystal Sears Cup trophy.

After the men’s game, I took the rest of the afternoon to walk through campus with a few teammates and my special guest. It was fun to point out my dormitory, classroom buildings and stop the Old Well for a quick sip of water and a picture. We continued our walk to Franklin Street to buy a few souvenirs for my two little boys.

Later that evening, we were honored with a banquet in the UNC Alumni Center. After a short video about the 1994 season, we began to reminisce about the special season. Many players took the opportunity to speak, including myself. How could I miss the opportunity to express my love for this team and for Sylvia Hatchell, the courageous woman who saw so much potential in each one of us and pushed us to be better than our own individual talents?

The next morning, the team shared a private chapel service. The service was led by two of my teammates. We laughed and cried while we prayed and encouraged one another through scripture and song. It was a special moment that we once shared weekly with one another.

We packed our cars and headed back to Carmichael Auditorium for lunch with the Ram’s Club and spent a few minutes with other alumni and boosters before taking our seats for the UNC women’s basketball game. There were many fans in attendance that followed our team during the championship season.

There were waves of people I hadn’t seen in decades that came to say hello. We were honored once again at halftime of the women’s basketball game and greeted with another standing ovation.

It’s not often that I get to publicly cheer for the Tar Heels (remember I spent nine years of my coaching career trying to beat them).

After the game, the team was escorted to the coaches’ conference room where the ‘Official Post Game Meal of the 1994 National Championship Team’ was provided; it was McDonald’s. Yes, after the 1994 national championship win, the Tar Heels ate at McDonald’s for their post game meal.

The most exciting part, unlike prior stops at the infamous fast-food chain, was this time we could order whatever we wanted.

Stephanie Lawrence Yelton
UWF Women’s Basketball Coach
North Carolina, ‘96

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