Aug. 21, 2006
Jessica is a women's basketball editor for CSTV.com and contributes regularly. E-mail here!
Forget getting around the block a few times. Anson Dorrance owns this block. With his collection of championship hardware, he might as well be crowned Sultan of Women's Soccer.
The thing is, it's been a couple years since Dorrance and his team ascended to their traditional throne. Of the 23 champions the NCAA has crowned, North Carolina has taken the title 16 times. Dorrance, entering his 28th season at the helm of the program, isn't shy about what it means for the last two national titles to live in the trophy cases of Notre Dame and
"It's a disappointment for us," the 55-year-old coach said. "But it's a product of our own creation."
The monster made of
"There isn't that much pressure," Dorrance said. "Just because you're disappointed, that's not life-ending. Soccer is not the kind of game that is easy to win in, even with a good performance and a good team. The toughest thing you're playing against sometimes isn't the other team, it's the game. I'm hoping no player here has ever gotten the impression that I'm disappointed in them, because I'm not."
As he says that last year's team played "wonderfully well" in their 4-1 NCAA quarterfinal loss to Florida State, there is no bitterness, no regret about his team's College Cup finish. When the conversation turns to next season, however, there is determination.
"We lost ten players," Dorrance said matter-of-factly. "We genuinely feel like for us to have a training environment we need to keep a training roster of 26. That precipitated our aggressive recruiting. Given the quality of the individuals that we lost, we felt we had to go after the best."
The best is exactly what
The young stars almost manage dazzle away the relative inexperience of the Tar Heels' roster. Inexperience in age only, of course, as the incoming freshmen include more than a few Youth National Team members.
Ali Hawkins, a
"It's going to be a long road," transitioning to
Hawkins and the other rookies will find comfort in the returning starters on the team, including senior forwards Heather O'Reilly and Elizabeth Gues, regarded as two of the Tar Heels' top returners.
"The first job for the upperclassmen is to help [the freshmen] relax a little bit," Dorrance said. "In the way they can stabilize this transition, the veterans are responsible. They have to take as much responsibility for how the game is going as possible so that the freshmen can just focus on getting acclimated."
Since these freshmen come from every climb and place, the acclimation processes will be as varied as their home addresses.
"I have no idea how I'm going to adjust," Hawkins said with a wink in her voice. "I'm most nervous about not having a beach around."
To other sports, college soccer can seem like a strange animal -- USA national team seasons often conflict with college play, nicking the best players from rosters across the country for the start of their school season.
Above all, the freshmen know they're stepping into the long shadow of
"It's kind of intimidating when this guy is recruiting you," Hawkins said. "This is what you strive for, and he's done it all. He understands when athletes have goals. A lot of schools you don't want to go there for the coach because you don't know if he's going to stay, but Anson's not going anywhere."
How is this going to effect playing time, especially for upperclassman who have been waiting in the wings through their first seasons?
"We're one of a few teams that tries to play their roster," Dorrance said. "If you look at our substitution patterns, we're not a professional arena, these girls aren't paid to play.
"Any girl who has the competitive fire and work ethic to play for us, were going to get her that playing time."
It's a philosophy that has worked for Dorrance on every level of the game. This year, he'll test whether it can take his unrivaled program back to a national title.