UNC celebrates 'unexpected' national title
There was talk Thursday in Carmichael Arena during a gathering to salute North Carolina winning its 22nd national women’s soccer title about how this crown had the best fit of them all.
UNC coach Anson Dorrance would tell you he didn’t see this one coming. Before the season started, Dorrance wasn’t sure UNC would make it into the NCAA tournament.
That said, Dorrance told UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham he had a hunch that if the Tar Heels found a way to have a shot at the title, they’d bring another piece of hardware to Chapel Hill.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, the soccer gurus weren’t showing much love to the Tar Heels.
“We were not in the top 10 in any national poll,” Dorrance said. “I think they had forgotten about North Carolina, so what was kind of cool was reminding them who the heck we are.”
Tar Heel Sports Network play-by-play man Jones Angell emceed Thursday’s celebration and, as he is wont to do when he’s on the air, dropped some neat factoids on the folks gathered in Carmichael:
UNC women’s soccer has been around for 34 years, and Dorrance, the only coach the program ever has known, has been there for all 22 of the national championships, Angell said.
The NCAA has been awarding women’s soccer championships for 31 years; 21 of the trophies were on the stage during UNC’s celebration.
“The next closest school has three,” Angell said.
That extra national championship was from UNC’s days in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. The AIAW was the organizing body for women’s sports before the NCAA took over championships in 1982.
“So we won their (AIAW) last title in ’81,” UNC spokesman Dave Lohse said.
In the history of UNC soccer, the Tar Heels have lost just 20 games in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Angell said. In other words, the number of national championships the Tar Heels have won exceeds the total losses they have accumulated in the ACC, he said.
“I’ve worked in universities — in fact, I’ve worked in conferences that haven’t won this many trophies,” Cunningham said. “It’s unbelievable what one program has been able to accomplish.”
I have to say, Anson, I’ve been here for all of these, and this one is the best,” UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said, alluding to his time on campus as both a student and a professor. “Anson, you are the best coach in any sport at any level ever in the history of athletics.”
Dorrance, a 1974 UNC graduate, had to get the Tar Heels past three No. 1 seeds in order to win the national title, going through Brigham Young, mighty Stanford and finally Penn State.
Beating Stanford was particularly special, because so many players the Tar Heels have recruited have ended up playing for the Cardinal, Dorrance said.
“The Stanford field — the team they had on the field — was littered with our recruiting failures,” Dorrance said. “And what I absolutely loved was beating them.
“We’ve played them 12 times, and they have never beaten us.”
This was a tough road, because some of UNC’s players had extra wear and tear on their bodies, entering the season after competing for national teams. The injury bug bit the Tar Heels, too.
“We knew we were going to take some hits early,” Dorrance said.
UNC just needed to do enough to get into the NCAA tournament, Dorrance said.
“I was absolutely convinced, once we got everyone back, all kinds of good things would happen,” Dorrance said.
The Tar Heels found ways to win, peaking right along when they paid a visit to Duke, a team that returned all of its starters from a squad that made it to last season’s national finals, Dorrance said.
“We absolutely eviscerated our rivals over in Durham on their field,” Dorrance said.
That’s when UNC started really believing there was room in the crowded trophy case for one more, Dorrance said.
“We have superstars that are so humble,” UNC redshirt senior Maria Lubrano said.
Dorrance let the crowd in on what he described as a secret source for players — East Chapel Hill High School. That’s where he discovered sophomore defender Caitlin Ball and freshman midfielder Hanna Gardner.
Gardner got unexpected playing time when she was inserted into the lineup after senior Megan Brigman broke her leg during the first game of the season.
“Those of you that saw her goal in the national-championship final, she skied above the entire defense of Penn State, and it was the critical backbreaking goal,” Dorrance said about Gardner.
Dorrance nearly passed on even giving Ball an opportunity to join the team.
“She is one of the greatest walk-on stories of all time,” Dorrance said.
Dorrance said his wife’s health challenges caused her to miss UNC’s national title game, so his players honored her by wearing red wristbands.
“They played for her, and that was so touching,” Dorrance said.
That’s the sort of thing that made crown No. 22 fit so much better than all of the others, Dorrance said.