Behind the scenes with UNC Wrestling at Southeastern Open

2019 November 03: Ethan Hoffman of the North Carolina Tar Heels wrestling team at the 2019 Southeast Open Wrestling Tournament in Roanoke, Virginia.

I had the unexpected opportunity to travel with the North Carolina Tar Heels wrestling team to the 2019 Southeast Open Wrestling Tournament in Roanoke, Virginia this weekend. My original plan was to only do action photos and not any behind-the-scenes photos. This was mostly owing to me having not worked with this team before and only knowing two of the wrestlers personally. Covering a team behind the scenes takes a bit of trust and time. I ended up being in a better place than I thought, thanks in large part to how welcoming the team was, from the coaches to the athletes.

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Episode 2: UNC Soccer Photo Story

Episode 2

An eclectic mix of English and Spanish music pulsates through the UNC soccer locker room, invigorating the souls of those listening as they prepare for battle. Matt Constant sits on the floor signing souvenir soccer balls that will be thrown out to fans before the game. I look over at Alex Rose and I have no idea what he is doing. He wields a lighter and he’s holding the flame to his socks.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – SEPTEMBER 06: Santiago Herrera #9 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during a game against the Harvard Crimson September 6, 2019, at the UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 6-0. (Photo by Peyton Williams)
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Move in day

UNC Soccer Project

Day 1

Sammy Jermane, the field supervisor of the new UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium, has been dutifully preparing the grass and field for the players’ arrival. Every square inch of the field has been tended to with excruciating detail. And the players themselves are all back in Chapel Hill, putting in equal amounts of preparation into their season.

The team arrived last week to participate in the Dick Baddour Carolina Leadership Academy, led by Shelley Johnson. However, rather than Shelley or the coaching staff teaching these sessions, student athletes were paired off into teams and assigned a topic that followed a “we are” statement.

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New photo project with UNC Men’s Soccer

An exciting announcement: This season I will be doing a season-long photo story with the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s soccer team, telling the lives of the student athletes off the field. You’ll see little in the way of game action photos; you can find those easily elsewhere. Instead, this will document the moments you never get to see. Reps during practice, gearing up before a game, and those formative moments that bond these student athletes together towards a collective vision of excellence on the field.

I’ll confess that I’m both excited and nervous about the experience. Excited because I’ll be back at my alma mater doing this story, a school that always feels me with good memories. Nervous because I’ve never done a story with a soccer team and will be figuring this out as a stumble along, trying to find compelling photography week in and week out.

Below are some images from the first day, a photo and video day session held at the new UNC Soccer and Lacrosse stadium.

Follow along with me on my Instagram or Twitter accounts as we take this journey together.

Until then, I’m off to buy some UNC soccer gear.

Duke wrestling, off the mat

Teamwork isn’t just built during practice or games. It’s also the culmination of interactions and moments away from practice, resulting in shared vision and lifelong friendships. One item my photo story was missing was these moments. This weekend the team had a gathering at senior Jacob Kasper’s house. The team played Xbox, ping pong, and the party game “Mafia“. I had never played Mafia before and was clearly unprepared for the game, evidenced by my fellow mafioso having me killed by the townsfolk early in the game (looking at you, Kasper).

The gathering marked one last chance for the team to mingle before the team would go their separate ways. As it was the start of Spring Break, some of the team would be heading home, others to Cleveland for NCAAs.


Duke Wrestling Story Update – A Singlet’s Story

I find myself sailing through an ocean of memories, time at my back, thrusting me forward towards the inexorable end to the wrestling season. I feel an increasing sadness and want the winds to shift the other way so I can relive the memories all over again, taken back to the first day I took photos with the team.

When I first started this project with Duke wrestling in October, before the season started, the time to work on it seemed infinite. ACCs and NCAAs were so far away. Ever since Southern Scuffle, however, the winds have seemingly accelerated and I find myself only a few weeks from the season’s end. On the journey though I’ve met some incredible people, both the student athletes of course, but also the coaching and support staff.

My hard drive is increasingly filled with images of the wrestling team that I have not looked at and edited yet. It’s not from laziness or being busy that I’ve not gone through them; it’s that once I go through them, and finish up editing all the photos, it will all be over; there will be nothing left to do. I find solace knowing that there are unseen images sitting on my hard drive waiting for my attention, allowing me to relive some fun moments with the guys and keep the project alive.

It’s often noted that human tend to concentrate on what they don’t have more than what they do. One thing I don’t have right now is photos of the wrestlers off the mat. Despite all the photos I have, it all feels incomplete. Over the next few weeks I will be working to get a more 360 view of wrestling life; the moments between friends at home, eating out, etc.

This week I came out for a couple practices as well as weights. One thing I have picked up on during practices was the variety of singlets I see. This has been another difference I have observed between wrestling and other team sports. Other teams have everyone wearing the exact same practice gear, down to the exact same colors. But it’s only appropriate that wrestlers, always the contrarians, would do things differently.

If they are wearing a singlet, it would be unusual they would wear a Duke singlet. Instead the singlets they wear are a panoply of colors and teams, representing past experiences and tournaments they have been in.

Ask a wrestler about their singlet and you’ll hear the story of how they got it. One of the freshman, Kaden Russell, was wearing one today that I thought was especially colorful and interesting, so I asked him about it. He got it from a tournament in Virginia Beach, which contributes so the beach feel of the singlet with a surfing board and Neptune, the god of the seas, emblazoned. He even mentioned that at some tournaments the wrestlers will trade singlets with each other, adding to their expanding wardrobe of singlets from across the country. It reminds me a bit of soccer players in tournaments trading jerseys.

Next time you are at a wrestling practice or tournament, ask a wrestler about their singlet; you may hear an interesting story of its origin. Below are some of my favorite singlets that I saw over the season.