Dec. 6, 2009

By Jim McCurdy
Special to

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance wanted to clarify.

After all, when you win 20 national championships, you’ve had a lot to say.

“Actually, it’s 21,” Dorrance said.

North Carolina wrapped up its 20th NCAA championship Sunday at Aggie Soccer Stadium in its 1-0 win over previous-unbeaten Stanford. But as far as North Carolina is concerned, this is title 21. The Tar Heels’ first championship came in 1981 when they captured the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national title.

The next year, in what Dorrance termed a “hostile takeover,” the NCAA laid claims to crowning a champion.

“I cherish that AIAW national championship as much as any of these NCAA championships,” said Dorrance, who’s been at the helm for 31 years.  

North Carolina went 23-0 that season, Dorrance’s third in Chapel Hill. His teams posted three straight perfect seasons from 1991-93, all concluding in a national championship. Dorrance’s teams won 92 consecutive games during that time and into the 1994 season.

It’s beyond legacy at North Carolina.

“UNC certainly is the standard,” Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum said a couple days earlier. “They’re the standard that everybody’s trying to reach. They’re always gonna be good. They’re always gonna compete for national championships.”

Dorrance argued earlier in the week that having repeat Final Four qualifiers and champions is a good thing. Especially for soccer.

“If you look at the way any sport was built, it was built with dynasties,” Dorrance said. “I think it builds interest faster than a carousel of teams. I think it’s hard enough to develop interest in our sport. I’ve always defended our success. I think having consistently good teams helps generate interest. It doesn’t mean teams rotating in aren’t a good thing. No, they are.”

That’s a hard pill for a school like Stanford to swallow right now. Especially after dazzling its way through an unblemished season until the final day.

“Now we have more of a taste what it’s all about,” said Cardinal coach Paul Ratcliffe, whose team lost, 1-0, to North Carolina in the championship.

Over the years, winning titles has become more difficult because the NCAA field has  expanded. Back when North Carolina won its first title, there were only three rounds. Now a team has to win six games.

“It’s longer,” Dorrance said. “Six games makes it a lot tougher. The quality of the average team in the tournament now is phenomenal. When the caliber of teams is so strong across the board like that, it is a lot harder.”

Players like striker Casey Nogueira and defenders Kristi Eveland, who captured a championship in her home state, and Whitney Engen certainly haven’t had a hard time with it. They’ve won three of those 20 or 21 – or who’s counting – titles the Tar Heels boast.

“I think the legacy that we want to leave on this program is that we pride ourselves in being a family,” Engen said. “We go out on that field and we work hard for the person next to you. If you look at our team and you see the accolades that people have won on this team and the fact that everybody comes to practice every day and works as hard as they can and to know they are pushing the girl next to them is really just a testament to just how deep and how caring this family is.
“Every single day in practice, they are held to a standard where they must push every other person at practice and make that person better. I think that’s a true testament to this program, and I think that the senior class, we embraced that. We made sure that everybody was upheld to the highest standard. It felt great to go out this way.”

The Tar Heels have gone out this way so many times, you almost feel for the runner-up.

In this case, it was a broken dream to a perfect season for the Cardinal. Last year, the Tar Heels ruined Notre Dame’s perfect season at the end.

“Our team doesn’t put up with any divas,” Dorrance said. “If you’re gonna be on the field for the Tar Heels, you’re gonna put your hard hat on and go to work.”

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM:  D/M Lauren Fowlkes, Notre Dame;  F Lauren Cheney, UCLA; F. Sydney Leroux, UCLA; F Kelley O’Hara, Stanford; F Christen Press, Stanford; MF Tobin Heath, North Carolina; F Jessica McDonald, North Carolina; D Rachel Givan, North Carolina; GK Ashlyn Harris, North Carolina. Whitney Engen of North Carolina was selected the Most Outstanding Player on Defense and Casey Nogueira of North Carolina was selected the Most Outstanding Player on Offense.