Tar Heel Born & Bred
Ever since I was little, I was told that anything you set your mind to is achievable. My parents, Hassan and Meleata, are two former UNC student-athletes. They played soccer and softball, respectively, and were great examples of achieving their goals. Growing up only five miles from campus, I spent many days and nights attending Carolina sporting events of all kinds, most notably, men’s and women’s soccer games. My Dad was recruited by Anson Dorrance to come play soccer in the early 90s, but the year he arrived on campus, Anson accepted a full-time head coaching role with the women’s team. I’ve been fortunate to grow up watching Anson’s teams win national championships and see many Tar Heels go on to represent the U.S. Women’s National Team.
From a young age, the culture of this school and this program sparked an inner fire in me to chase my dreams with conviction and to work diligently to become better every single day.
As a child, I frequently attended the UNC Soccer “Noon Ball” matches, where my father and current coach, Anson, among other UNC soccer alum, regularly participated in pick-up style games on weekday afternoons in the summer. This environment accelerated my tactical and technical understanding of the game through watching and eventually playing. Due to NCAA recruiting rules, I had to stop playing before I entered high school. At the ripe age of 8 at a Noon Ball match, I told Anson that I would one day play for him. Only six short years later, I verbally committed to attend the University of North Carolina.
I always imagined playing with the Carolina logo across my chest, but my first match surpassed my wildest dreams. After being a Tar Heel for a matter of minutes, I was offered the opportunity to take a free kick. I bent a free kick to the back post, a shot that I routinely practice even today. This particular free kick just so happened to be my first game, first goal, and Anson’s 1000th victory.
It was a moment I will never forget because I finally made my mark on the program that I idolized for years.
Something special about Anson and this program is how they push us to become well-rounded adults, even outside our identity as elite women’s soccer players. Over the course of four years, our athletic and character development is tracked by our competitive cauldron and our biannual peer evaluations, measured by our 13 core values. These program rankings allow each player to develop a personal narrative about our performance level in relation to our peers and gain an accurate understanding of how others perceive us. In terms of our athletic and character development, we strive to be on a never-ending ascension.
The Carolina Women’s Soccer program habitually sets the standard for how we treat others within the UNC Athletics Department. In order to cultivate a winning-culture, we have to value everyone in the program so they can feel empowered to chase excellence alongside their teammates. In the past, Carolina Athletics did not make it a point to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, after the murder of George Floyd, they revamped their approach to ensure that ALL athletes feel that their humanity is valued, their voices are heard, and that they have a network of people that will support them through thick and thin.
In efforts to address the ongoing racial injustice, UNC Women’s soccer amended our “Caring” core value which now directly denounces racism of all kinds.
To educate every member of our team, we have added How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi to our summer reading curriculum. This adds to the preseason book club tradition in which Anson leads book discussions about leadership, time-management, grit, and now social justice.
Within the last year, I’ve seen significant advancement in how Carolina is intentional about addressing social justice and supporting all of our athletes. I had the chance to speak as a panelist in front of the Men’s Lacrosse team and the Field Hockey team about lived experiences as a Black woman and student-athlete. Other panelists of different backgrounds and identities joined these discussions, which I believe helped unify the athletic department as a whole. This experience was glaringly different than my freshman year because Carolina has become devoted to the holistic development of our student-athletes and the value they place in our collective humanity.
I have always been recognized as a successful athlete before my fundamental identity as a student.
When I came to campus three years ago, I arrived undecided about my major because I wanted to be exposed to as many different classes as possible to get the most enriching Carolina experience. During this process, the Kenan-Flagler Business School caught my eye. I am pursuing business because it gives me the flexibility to make future professional career goals tailored to my evolving interests. Similar to my soccer environment, I wanted to be surrounded by driven, kind, thoughtful, and competitive people. Applying to this prestigious undergraduate business program offered everything that I was searching for and provided clarity about my purpose off the field.
While Kenan-Flagler has recognized and celebrated my athletic achievements, the community has also emphasized my value as a human outside of being an athlete. The business school has propelled my professional career by pushing me to pursue internship experience, providing networking opportunities, and building my confidence as a future business leader. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the classes that I’ve taken and built meaningful relationships with my professors along the way.
Based on my experience within the UNC Athletics program and the Kenan-Flagler Business School, I have found two communities that are genuinely invested in my future.
To see my time at Carolina come to an end has made me reflect on my journey to where I am now. As I move on from collegiate soccer and begin my professional career with NJ/NY Gotham FC, I will continue taking classes to finish my degree. I can confidently say that I am living out my dreams. The Carolina Athletics Executive Staff preaches the idea that a four-year commitment turns into a 40-year bond. Although this is supposed to be just a four-year commitment, it has already been so much more for me.
I was born and bred a Tar Heel and I look forward to representing this University in the next chapter of my life.
- Brianna Pinto