Dec. 6, 2009

Sidebar: UNC Celebrates Nearly Three Decades Of Dominance

By Jim McCurdy
Special to

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Christen Press was pressing.

The Stanford junior forward thought she had cashed in when she got beyond North Carolina’s defense and buried a shot off the post and in with less than two minutes to decide the championship.

But for the second time in the match, the play was whistled off-sides.

“There wasn’t very much time in the game, and I knew we were gonna have to give it our all,” said Press, who had a team-high three shots, all in the second half. “I just didn’t want our mentality to be negative.”

It ended up being deflating.

Deflating in a one-goal game. Deflating in a one-goal sport. Deflating to a perfect season.

More importantly, the difference between a title and being the dreaded runner-up.

North Carolina captured its second consecutive national championship and the 20th NCAA title of its storied history in a 1-0 win over Stanford on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Texas A&M’s Aggie Stadium in the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer College Cup in front of a record-crowd 8,536 fans.

“I can’t express properly how good I feel right now, and how proud I am of this group,” forever Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance said. “There’s a certain nostalgia because a lot of these kids came in as freshmen and had a remarkable freshmen year. For them to finish it off in this fashion, I couldn’t be prouder.”

North Carolina’s Jessica McDonald scored on a cross from Casey Nogueira, voted the most outstanding player of the tournament, less than three minutes into the game as the Tar Heels (23-3-1) went on the offensive like it had just two days earlier in this College Cup. It was the first goal for McDonald since Oct. 29 against Clemson.

Tobin Heath was also credited with an assist.

“It was obviously really exhilarating,” said McDonald, of Glendale, Ariz., who finished the season with nine goals. “My heart was kind of going kind of fast.”

North Carolina outshot Stanford 10-2 in the first half. The Tar Heels finished with five shots on goal to the Cardinal’s two.

“North Carolina does a great job of pressuring and swarming the ball,” Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “It was hard for us to get into a rhythm and really play our type of soccer.

“I think we (leave here with) more hunger that we can accomplish our goal of winning a national title. We’re moving up each year.”

Stanford (25-1) had a goal taken away with 6:11 remaining in the first half when Press sent a ball to Courtney Verloo, who deposited it into the side netting only to have the play whistled offside.

About nine minutes into the second half, Stanford’s Kelley O’Hara, possibly the most explosive offensive player in the country, wheeled at the top of the box and fired a shot that sailed high. Nearly four minutes later, Press launched a straight-on shot a yard over the crossbar in an even better scoring opportunity, but Stanford still remained behind the eight-ball.

With 17:45 left to play, O’Hara was issued her second yellow card for hard tackles in a five-minute span, resulting in a red card and subsequent ejection. A player down for the remainder of the contest, that forced Press into more of an attacking mode. On the Cardinal’s next possession, Press fielded a pass at midfield, turned, dribbled a couple steps and fired a shot right on target, but North Carolina keeper Ashlyn Harris made the save.

“It was really disruptive,” Press said. “We played 90 minutes of soccer that wasn’t the type of soccer we wanted to play.”

Nogueira finished with a goal and assist at the Cup. She has played a role in the game-winning goal in all three of her championships, twice as the scorer.

“I’m always somehow in the right place at the right time,” Nogueira somewhat mildly suggested. “Just to have Jessica get that goal for our team is just amazing.”

Stanford keeper Kira Maker stopped four shots.

It put an end to a run of three titles in four years for what Dorrance called a special group of seniors, who played such a big part in the first of these last three titles.

“All of us played our first game here at Texas A&M in front of 8,000 people and lost in overtime,” said Tar Heels senior defender Whitney Engen, voted the most outstanding defensive player. “To come full circle and win our last game right here, it meant a lot to us.”