Tar Heels win 21st championship
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Anson Dorrance has been coaching the same system at North Carolina for 31 years, and he's certainly not going to change anything now.
The Tar Heels earned their second straight and 21st overall national championship on Sunday, beating Stanford 1-0 in the final of the Women's College Cup. Jessica McDonald scored in the third minute and North Carolina's smothering defense hung on from there.
"We've tried to design a system that's difficult to play against," Dorrance said. "That system is predicated on work ethic and high pressure. It's hard for other teams to replicate that in practice. Often times, even when a quality team plays us for the first time, it's a bit of a shock."
The Tar Heels (23-3-1) have won six NCAA titles since 1999, three times as many as any other team overall. The program has produced some of the game's all-time scorers, led by Mia Hamm.
But the defense has always been a cornerstone, and the Tar Heels finished the latest championship season with their 10th shutout in the last 11 games. Stanford, the nation's second-highest scoring team, mustered only nine shots.
"We don't change our system for anybody," said senior Whitney Engen, voted the tournament's most outstanding defensive player. "We know, in order to make everything function and play the game we want to play, we have to trust in our line and play the system we've played all year."
Stanford (25-1) failed in its bid to join North Carolina as the only teams to finish a perfect season -- no losses or ties -- with a championship. The Tar Heels have done that four times (1991-93, 2003).
The Cardinal generated only two shots in the first half and could hardly string more than two passes together. North Carolina goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris made only two saves all day and the Tar Heels finished their 19th shutout in 27 games.
"North Carolina does a great job of pressuring and swarming the ball," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "It's easy to talk about as a coach, what you need to do. But it's difficult in there. It was hard for us to get into a rhythm and play our type of soccer."
Stanford had trailed in five games this season. But the comeback hopes in this one virtually ended when Kelley O'Hara, the nation's leading goal scorer, was issued her second yellow card -- an automatic ejection -- with 17:45 left in the game.
That left short-handed Stanford's chances of a rally to second-leading scorer Christen Press, and she nearly tied it with a 20-yard shot that Harris punched away.
Press also broke through the defense in the 88th minute, firing a long shot past Harris for an apparent tying goal, but linesman Martik Mirikian called her offside.
Press didn't complain about the call after the game. Stanford was flagged for six offsides calls, part of the Tar Heels' defensive plan.
"We stuck to our system," senior defender Kristi Eveland said. "We did draw a line high and we've been playing that way all year."
Stanford was the 12th team to enter the College Cup with a perfect record. Last year, Notre Dame came in at 25-0 before losing 2-1 to North Carolina in the final.
Casey Nogueira, who assisted on the goal, was the tournament's most outstanding offensive player. She fed McDonald with a high, bending pass into the goal area, and McDonald rushed in to chip it past goalkeeper Kira Maker.
Nogueira scored the goal in North Carolina's 1-0 win over Notre Dame in the semifinals.
The Tar Heels held the Cardinal without a shot for the first 17 minutes. O'Hara and Press hardly touched the ball in the first half, and the Tar Heels swarmed them every time they did.
"It was really disruptive," Press said of the Tar Heels' defense. "I felt like we had so many open players and we were just struggling to get them the ball."
Press finally found some room late in the first half and sent a perfect cross to Courtney Verloo for an apparent goal with about 6 minutes left. Mirikian called Stanford offside on the play and the goal was negated.
North Carolina outshot Stanford 10-2 and had a 7-0 edge in corner kicks in the first half.
The Cardinal's offense was crisper after the break, and Stanford generated its first corner kick 6 minutes into the second half. O'Hara and Press got free for long shots over the goal in the next 10 minutes. O'Hara then earned her second yellow card when she knocked down Engen.
The players in the final game dealt with persistent rain and unseasonably cold weather. The temperature at kickoff was 48 degrees, up from the mid-30s for Friday's semifinals.