Bulldogs Blog

Boyden Strong: UNC match-clincher channels strength from mother battling breast cancer

By Jason Butt


North Carolina defeated Georgia 4-3 in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships.
North Carolina defeated Georgia 4-3 in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships. Georgia Sports Communications

Bo Boyden dashed Georgia’s hopes at a national championship.

It was Boyden who delivered North Carolina's clinching win over Georgia’s Robert Loeb to send the Tar Heels to the finals with a 4-3 victory Monday.

Boyden rightfully celebrated the victory with his teammates, coaches and UNC fans who made the trip to Athens. But one person dear to Boyden's heart was unable to see the jubilation first-hand.

Pamela Boyden, Boyden's mother, was forced to stay in their hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina to receive treatment for breast cancer.

Boyden was demonstrably emotional during his match. And as Boyden and his teammates waited out a rain delay that lasted four hours and two minutes, Boyden received a text message from his mother.

“After the rain delay I was feeling a little pressure,” Boyden said. “I feel liked I’d dropped my level a little bit there. She texted me and said, ‘I know I’m not there right now but I’m cheering you on and we’re Boyden strong.’ It meant a lot, and I just kept saying it throughout the whole set.”

As the end of Boyden’s Court 6 clincher against Loeb neared, that’s exactly what he kept telling himself – to stay “Boyden Strong.”

Recalling that conversation with his mother, Boyden fought back tears.    

“This is what we play for,” Boyden said. “This is what all of the hard work is for.”

During the season, the North Carolina players shaved their heads to show support for Boyden’s mother.

The UGA tennis team reached out to the Tar Heels in March in a display of solidarity. On its Twitter account, the Bulldogs posed for a picture with a caption reading, “Keep up the good fight!”

“I want to give special thanks to (Georgia head coach Manuel) Diaz and his team,” Boyden said. “I know they honored my mom and it meant the world to me. It meant a ton to my mom. I really appreciate those guys. It’s just a tennis match and it’s awesome that something like that could bring everyone together.”

Said Diaz: “We wish him the best. He’s a great kid. He competed great (Monday). I’m sure he made his team and his mom proud.”

The UNC tennis program, through a program called Team Impact, also paid special attention to 5-year-old Mick Macholl, who battled neuroblastoma for 18 months before dying in December. During his fight with cancer, North Carolina made Macholl a member of the tennis team through a signing ceremony, similar to what a prospective student-athlete would go through on National Signing Day.

North Carolina head coach Sam Paul said he is proud to see his players react during such tough times.  

“This is a great group of young people,” Paul said. “Our guys embraced (Macholl) and went to see him every single day. I’m just fortunate to be their coach.”

With Boyden's help, North Carolina will now play for its first ever men’s tennis title at the NCAA Championships.

Loeb said it was tough to lose to Boyden in such a tough match.

While the sting of defeat was tough in the moment, Loeb said he’s very much thinking of the bigger picture when it comes to the battle the Boyden family is fighting.

“He’s one of my friends. I grew up playing with him,” Loeb said. “I’m praying for him, praying for his family. He’s a good guy.”