July 20, 2009

With the 2008-09 season fading into memory and fall practices still a month away, NCAA.com is spending two weeks in July looking back on 10 athletic programs that stood not just once, but twice (and, in three cases, thrice) atop the college sports world with national championships in '08-`09. From Messiah's magic soccer runs to Washington's scintillating softball title, this 10-part series showcases the schools that helped to define another unforgettable year of college sports.

Messiah (July 9) | Texas A&M (July 10) | Penn State (July 13) | Messiah (July 14)
Maryland (July 15) | Cortland State (July 16) | Washington (July 17) | North Carolina (July 20)

By Douglas Kroll

North Carolina winning a women’s soccer championship is certainly nothing new to collegiate sports fans.  

And with Roy Williams at the helm of the men’s basketball program in Chapel Hill, national championships are the norm once again.

So it should come as no surprise that two of the most accomplished programs in the history of their sports each won a national title in the 2008-09 season. What was the story is that, for only the second time ever, they did it in the same year.

For head coach Anson Dorrance’s soccer squad, it was the 19th NCAA title that the team has brought home in school history. Not bad for a championship that started handing out titles in 1982 – of course, the Tar Heels took that one home, too, starting a run that saw them win 12 of the first 13 Division I women’s soccer championships.

Click here for the interactive brackets: Women's Soccer | Men's Basketball

To no one’s surprise, the 2009 version of one of the most prolific college teams of all time, in any sport, was picked to win the ACC by the conference’s coaches. And they started the season in the top three in the nation in most polls.

These Tar Heels took to the pitch 28 times in 2008. Only three times – with two ties and just one loss – did they not come away victorious. But that loss, though it came early in the season, stung. It was at home. In their own tournament, to a fellow top program—Notre Dame. North Carolina doesn’t lose at home.

That 1-0 defeat sent the Tar Heels on a run that would see 16 shutouts the rest of the way.
No goals allowed in three games at the ACC Tournament gave UNC its 19th conference championship. No goals allowed in the NCAA Tournament’s first three rounds against Western Carolina, Charlotte and Illinois sent these Tar Heels into the Quarterfinals, where they’d face one of their stiffest tests yet, against Texas A&M.

And for the first time since the Notre Dame game, UNC fell behind. But the Heels never panicked, trailing with less than 10 minutes remaining. A goal in the 82nd minute tied it, and another in the 102nd minute meant a date in Cary, N.C. in the semifinals against UCLA.

A 1-0 win over the Bruins set up a rematch in the national championship game – one that the Tar Heels had hoped for when this tournament had begun. A rematch with the one blemish of the 2008 campaign, and the team that had also ended North Carolina’s 2007 season.

But the national championship game against Notre Dame didn’t exactly open the way they had hoped. Sixteen seconds in, the Irish scored.

But North Carolina has 19 NCAA national championships for a reason. Relying on its clamping defense to move the momentum in the favor of UNC, the Tar Heels got two goals from junior Casey Nogueira in the second half to rally past Notre Dame and give UNC some redemption, and with it, a national title.

"We're absolutely thrilled to be sitting here as 2008 national champions,” Coach Dorrance said after the title game. “I'm especially proud of a team that never gave up. They were behind against Texas A&M in the quarters and fought our way back, we were behind today and fought our way back, and I'm just incredibly proud of this group. They're just a really enjoyable bunch of young women to be with, it’s been one of those dream seasons for us."

If there’s one program on the Chapel Hill campus that can even begin to think about rivaling what the women’s soccer program has over the year, it’s Roy William’s basketball team.

Tyler Hansbrough and company followed in the footsteps of a soccer championship, with a national title of their own, thanks to a roster that some called one of the most talented in college basketball history.

They showed that time and time again.

Losing just four times all season, the only accomplishment that this Tar Heels team can’t add to the trophy case is an ACC Tournament championship, thanks to a loss against Florida State.

But everyone in the baby blue will certainly take a national title as a consolation prize, so to speak.

Just how impressive was UNC’s run through the 2009 NCAA Tournament? Ask anyone on Radford, LSU, Gonzaga, Oklahoma, Villanova or Michigan State, and they’ll have plenty of thoughts about it.

The closest final result for North Carolina in those six games? Oklahoma. The Sooners kept it within 12.

And Roy Williams’ boys only had to beat Michigan State in the championship game, in Detroit, at Ford Field. In front of what seemed like 60,000 green-clad Spartans fans. That one was never in doubt.

“The first one was unbelievably sweet in 2005, but in some ways this one's even sweeter,” Williams said after his second title with the Tar Heels. “So proud of this team. People anointed us before the year that you were going to go undefeated, which I thought was silly at the time. Then we lost two games and everybody jumped off the ship. The kids believed us in the locker room at Wake Forest when we told them we were going to be there at the end. That's about the most satisfying feeling I've ever had as a coach.”

It doesn’t take much to start to realize this may not be the last year that we see these two programs anointed national champions at the same time. When you have that kind of pedigree in Chapel Hill, special seasons and tournament runs tend to happen.