The Tar Heels brought the national championship home to Chapel Hill last weekend with a 4-1 victory over Penn State in San Diego. It’s not too much of a drought – North Carolina last won the title in 2009 – but nonetheless it is a welcome return to the top for a storied athletics program.
The UNC women’s soccer program extends a remarkable run of success. The Tar Heels have won 21 national championships in 31 seasons. Coach Anson Dorrance, in 34 years, has won more than 93 percent of his games at UNC.
This season was different than many championship campaigns, Dorrance said.
“I think we overachieved,” he said. “I thought our NCAA tournament seeding was too high and that we deserved worse. A lot of other teams could’ve got the best of us along the way, but we’re survivors. We never quit and always seem to come through in the clutch. I love this team’s spirit and I’ve really enjoyed this run. It was a chemistry miracle how we all came together.”
After a 1-1 draw in the first half, East Chapel Hill graduate Hanna Gardner headed in a goal to give the Tar Heels the lead, following the first goal by Kealia Ohai. Satara Murray scored on a rebound shot and Ranee Premji put it out of reach by scoring to give North Carolina a three-goal cushion.
Goalkeeper Adelaide Gay made the All-Tournament Team along with Murray, Ohai, Amber Brooks and Crystal Dunn. Ohai scored a dramatic overtime goal in the semifinals against top-ranked Stanford to send the Tar Heels to the title game.
This championship has a nice local angle. The Herald-Sun recently profiled Gardner and Caitlin Ball, who were teammates at East Chapel Hill High School and now help to anchor the Tar Heels defense. Neither player was expected to play a major role this year, but in a roller-coaster season filled with injuries, both have stepped forward to contribute to a fantastic season.
As the program’s most famous alumna, Mia Hamm (@MiaHamm), summed it up appropriately on Twitter: “Couldn't be prouder of my Tar Heels @UNCwomenssoccer ! National Champions!”