Dec. 5, 2009

By Jim McCurdy
Special To

This history between the two schools has grown incrementally each year.

What Notre Dame offers North Carolina and vice versa is a constant challenge that is driven by determination and fueled by the incentive that one or the other seemingly will have a title at stake.

For the third time in four years, North Carolina and Notre Dame met in the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer College Cup, this time Friday at Texas A&M’s Aggie Stadium in the second semifinal match. And for the third time in that span, the Tar Heels have ended the Irish’s season.

North Carolina beat the Fighting Irish, 1-0, to move on to its third championship game in four years. Last year North Carolina beat Notre Dame, 2-1, in the title game.

“UNC certainly is the standard and has been for 25-30 years,” Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said. “They’re the standard that everybody’s trying to reach. They’re a very good team again. I’m not sure there are not a lot of other teams in the country now that are equally as good.

“If you look at Carolina in the first 25 years of what they’ve done and then you look at Carolina in the last 10 years or the last five or six years and you’ve got a lot of teams that can boast of success against them in the last few years. They’re always going to be good. They’re always going to win and compete for national championships. Because of their history, I think we’ll always and everybody will always be judged against that.”

North Carolina has won 19 national titles. They’ll play for No. 20 on Sunday when the Tar Heels tangle with unbeaten Stanford, which has never won a championship. Notre Dame is tied for second with two titles.

It’s a huge gap to say the least, but championships are hard to come by. In this game, nobody has done it better than the Tar Heels.

North Carolina owns a 12-4-2 edge over Notre Dame, winning three of the past five meetings. The Tar Heels have beaten the Fighting Irish seven times in the College Cup with Notre Dame’s lone win a semifinal win in 1995. The Tar Heels have beaten the Irish five times in the championship match.

On this night, they added another chapter to the history of the two teams, whose coaches agreed to continue to keep playing during the regular season because they believe their competitive spirit brings out the best in each other.

This game was just another to add to a collection of great matches, but another that the Tar Heels tucked away on the right end.

“I don’t think there’s a great message,” North Carolina longtime coach Anson Dorrance said. “I think a program like Notre Dame’s or a program like ours, if we had lost the game, it doesn’t change much. There’s no mystery in collegiate athletics. I don’t care what sport you’re coaching, it comes down to recruiting. Notre Dame has a great program and school to recruit to, and so do we.

“Regardless of what happened in today’s game, I think both schools will continue to recruit well. I think the only way a school changes dramatically is if it stops recruiting effectively. I don’t think this game will change Notre Dame’s recruiting, and I don’t think it’ll change ours. I think both programs are going to continue sailing very aggressively in the future.”

What the future holds for North Carolina is another date in a championship.

North Carolina has made 25 appearances in the College Cup, including 22 consecutive trips from 1982-2003. The Tar Heels own the most wins in College Cup history with 41. Notre Dame is second with nine.

But now, while North Carolina has a chance to add to those totals, Notre Dame must wait another year as it puts an end to a season that started out ominously only to finish with a flurry.

“This one really has come so far,” Waldrum said of his team. “If you would’ve asked anyone who watched us play North Carolina earlier this year, nobody would’ve guessed we would’ve come back here. We never gave up believing we’re still good enough to get there. Even though it’s a really disappointing night, it’s been a really rewarding year.”