2007 Carolina Women's Soccer Preview
Tar Heels open 2007 campaign September 1 versus South Carolina.
Aug. 13, 2007
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The 2007 University of North Carolina women's soccer team will find itself hard pressed to equal the accomplishments of the 2006 team but one thing is for sure as the Tar Heels prepare for their opener on September 1 against South Carolina at Fetzer Field. That known quality is the fact head coach Anson Dorrance and his roster of 30 players intends to try very hard to produce another national championship season.
Carrying on the remarkable legacy of UNC women's soccer can seem like a daunting task for the women who choose to compete at Carolina. Every game they play they face an opponent which is doing everything it can to compete at its highest level. The Tar Heels always don an imaginary bullseye on the back of their uniforms at which their foes take aim. Even so, the Tar Heels find ways to win at an astounding clip in a sport that can be so cruel in the fairness of its outcomes and where bounces of the ball oftimes determine the winners of a grueling 90-minute slugfest.
Over the past 28 seasons, UNC has compiled a remarkable mark of 629-28-18 while winning 19 national championships since 1981 and 15 ACC titles since 1987, the year when the league first sponsored a championship in the sport. Dorrance returns a veteran team for 2007 with 20 letter winners overall and eight players who started in the primary lineup utilized in the final stages of the 2006 campaign. A handful of other players on the roster have significant starting experience and have played an abundance of minutes in their Tar Heel careers. Whether this unit can match last year's record is yet to be decided and Dorrance has indicated the main issue will be identifying the team's goal scorers.
Last season the Tar Heels outscored their opponents 81-13 en route to claiming the ACC regular season crown with a undefeated 10-0 record, the ACC Tournament championship trophy in a thrilling overtime final and the biggest prize of all, the NCAA championship hardware. The 2-1 win over co-No. 1-ranked Notre Dame in the national final resulted in UNC's first title since 2003. Carolina has only had a three-year gap between titles twice in its history since the first championship was decided in 1981. The other came between 2000 and 2003.
Dorrance is thrilled that at the goalkeeper spot, on the back line of the defense and in the midfield Carolina does return veteran units, all virtually intact. But two starters must be replaced on the front line of the attacking unit and both of those players consistently put up big numbers over the four years they wore the Carolina Blue and White.
Heather O'Reilly and Elizabeth Guess were two of the four seniors who competed on the 2006 Tar Heel team. O'Reilly was honored as the Soccer America Player of the Year in `06 and she also won the Honda Soccer Award and went on to be a finalist for the Honda Broderick Cup. A three-year consensus first-team All-America selection, O'Reilly finished her career 11th in points at Carolina with 167, tied for 10th in goals with 59 and 12th in assists with 49. She was Carolina's leading scorer in 2006 with 40 points on 12 goals and 16 assists. O'Reilly was also the Most Valuable Offensive Player of the NCAA College Cup in both 2003 and 2006.
Elizabeth Guess, known as Libby throughout her Tar Heel career, was an off and on starter for four years. She began her career in the midfield on the 2003 NCAA championship team and then moved up to the forward line a year later. Guess had six goals and 13 assists last season. She was named the ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring the game-winning goals in the semifinal against Clemson and in the overtime final against Florida State. Guess wound up her career 25th in points with 99, 26th in goals with 32 and 28th in assists with 35. She had an uncanny knack for scoring goals in postseason games with 17 of her 32 career tallies coming in either ACC Tournament or NCAA Tournament games.
Carolina's 20 returning letter winners will be tasked with replacing the goal scoring prowess of those two players and one transfer and nine freshmen will be on hand to help as well. Another 2006 starter, holding midfielder Ali Hawkins, will not play this season after tearing an ACL while competing for a national youth team in England this past May.
The logical place to start in assessing the Tar Heels' 2007 squad is on defense, however. This area should be a UNC strength in the coming year. First off, Carolina returns two quality goalkeepers after being painfully thin at that position the past two years because of injuries to key players. Junior Anna Rodenbough started a few games at the end of the 2005 season, trading off with Aly Winget. That gave her some key experience as she was the only healthy goalkeeper on the Tar Heel roster in 2006 until North Carolina got into the NCAA Tournament. She earned all 28 starts on the year, playing 2301 minutes and compiling a 0.39 goals against average and an .828 save percentage. Rodenbough finished with a 25-1 goalie record and posted 15 solo shutouts, just one short of the school record of 16 set by Winget in 2003. Rodenbough will likely share time with sophomore Ashlyn Harris, a long-time member of youth national teams since she was 13.
Harris enrolled at Carolina in January 2005 after playing for the U19 world championship team in 2004. Harris tore her ACL twice after enrolling at Carolina and she missed the 2005 campaign altogether but rehabbed at an incredible pace in order to get on the field by the NCAA Tournament in 2006. She came off the bench in all six games of the tournament, playing 247 minutes. She made key second half stops against Texas A&M and UCLA to allow the Tar Heels to advance in the tournament.
The defense for Carolina should be rock solid. It is led by fifth-year senior Jessica Maxwell, a starter since her freshman year in 2003 at the center back position. A recipient of All-America and All-ACC honors throughout her career, Maxwell missed the entire 2005 season with a torn ACL. She came back to captain the 2006 team and lead it to the national championship. Maxwell suffered a broken ankle in the 2006 NCAA quarterfinals against Texas A&M but she was back on the field by spring practice and Dorrance said she had taken her game to another level at that point.
Maxwell will be joined in the back by senior Ariel Harris, a starter on the left side for four years and one of the Tar Heels' steadiest players and unsung heroes. Then there is Kristi Eveland, arguably the most pleasant surprise of the 2006 season. Last summer Dorrance admitted he was excited by her potential and expected her to be a starter by her junior year. Little did he know that Eveland would come into fall practice and seize the starting job at right back. Eveland was brilliant from the start and earned consensus freshman All-America honors. She started all but one game for the Tar Heels and logged 2,408 minutes, the most on the team in 2006.
Then there is senior Robyn Gayle, who like Maxwell was a team captain as a junior in 2006. Gayle is a member of the full Canadian National Team and will be playing with it in the 2007 Women's World Cup in China. She is expected to return to the Tar Heels at the beginning of October. Gayle was an All-Region selection last season and after stepping in for Maxwell at center back in the NCAA College Cup last year she was so brilliant in the role she was named the NCAA Tournament's most outstanding defensive player. Other options in the back include junior Mandy Moraca who has had experience playing there during her career at Carolina and incoming freshman Erin Mikula.
In the midfield Carolina features a lineup that includes two players in the full national team pool, two in the U21 national team pool and two more in the U20 national team pool.
The midfield be led by junior Yael Averbuch at the attacking center midfield position. Averbuch was the second leading scorer on last year's team with 39 points and she led Carolina in goals scored with 16 and in game-winning goals with seven. She ranks as one of the premier players in the college game, earning unanimous first-team All-America honors in 2006. She was also named the National Player of the Year by both Soccer Buzz and Top Drawer Soccer. Averbuch has playing experience with the full national team. She was also a finalist for both the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy and the Honda Soccer Award last season.
On the left side, Carolina returns Tobin Heath, another player with full national team experience. Heath continues to play regularly for the U.S. on national youth teams and her play excels at every level. In 2006, Heath was a consensus first-team freshman All-America. She started 22 games after joining the team after playing in the U19 World Championships. She finished the year with four goals and nine assists. On the right flank, the Heels return another 2006 freshman All-America in Nikki Washington. Washington played this past summer in the Pan American Games in Brazil with the U20 National Team, joining Heath and Casey Nogueira on that team. Washington had three goals and nine assists as a freshman. One of her goals was the game-winning tally against Texas A&M in the NCAA quarterfinals, propelling the Heels into the College Cup.
Rising sophomore Ali Hawkins was slated to return at the holding center midfield spot after starting 25 games as a freshman, scoring six goals and adding three assists. But in May Hawkins tore her ACL in England while playing for the U21s. In a stroke of luck, the Tar Heels were graced by the addition of a transfer from Penn State, Allie Long, an All-Big Ten performer and member of the U21 National Team pool. Long plays the holding center midfield spot and she has a great chance to start at that position for Carolina.
Carolina will have superior depth in the midfield with senior Julie Yates and sophomore Betsy Frederick as returnees and a strong freshman class that includes Meghan Klingenberg, Maria Lubrano and Katie Lutz. Klingenburg is a member of the U20 National Team player pool.
The top returnees at the striker spot are a pair of players who earned freshmen All-America honors last season -- Whitney Engen and Casey Nogueira. Engen has playing experience with the U21 national squad and Nogueira has trained with and played for the full national team.
Engen was UNC's third-leading scorer in 2006 behind O'Reilly and Averbuch. A tenacious competitor, she totaled 12 goals and 13 assists last year for 37 points. Nogueira came on strong at the end of the season for Carolina after missing the first few games playing for the U19 National Team in Russia at the World Championships. Nogueira scored the game-winning goal against defending NCAA champion Portland on her first weekend back with the team. She did not score again until the regular season finale versus Wake Forest. Forced into the starting lineup for the College Cup because of an injury to Libby Guess, Nogueira turned in a performance for the ages, scoring the game-winning goal in both the NCAA semifinal against UCLA and the NCAA championship game against Notre Dame.
The Tar Heels return a strong bench which includes former starter Jaime Gilbert, a senior who has compiled 75 points in her career, including five goals and four assists in 2006. Red-shirt sophomore Sterling Smith had a great 2006 despite seeing limited minutes while recovering from a calf injury. She started 17 games and matched Gilbert's 2006 goals and assists totals. Senior Katie Brooks has been a steady presence off the bench in recent years as has junior Mandy Moraca. Sophomore Ashley Moore showed continued improvement throughout her freshman season in 2006 and classmate Caroline Boneparth is another solid and reliable returnee.
Freshman Rachel Givan joins the Tar Heels' front line as a member of the U20 National Team pool after several years playing on other youth national squads. Other freshmen at the forward spot include Leslie Briggs and Katie Klimczak.