Anson Dorrance coaches his 800th game

Thirty-four seasons in, 800 games gone, 728 wins captured and Anson Dorrance is still cracking.

Dorrance, head coach of North Carolina women’s soccer, coached his 800th career game Friday night against Florida, a 0-0 overtime tie, and the results suggests he possesses the same enthusiasm he had when he took over the program in 1979.

“Yeah, I read that,” Dorrance said, nonchalantly and smiling, noting the milestone. “Eight hundred matches — I think that means I have to check the life-insurance policies and make sure my family will be supported.”

UNC, sans five players due to national team duty and another to injury, has yet to net a regular season goal, but Dorrance isn’t overly concerned.

He’s won 21 national championships, after all.

A brief scoring drought to start the season pales in comparison to some of the things he’s had to cope with during the past 33 seasons.

“I don’t think this is a game we’re going to frame in the reels of brilliant soccer, but there were some fine moments,” Dorrance said of Friday’s match. “I’m excited about where we’re going to be when everyone comes back.”

Senior midfielder Ranee Premji felt similarly.

“When the World Cup players come back, it will really help as well,” Premji said. “But it’s good getting the freshmen experience right now.”

A good part of Dorrance’s success has to be attributed to his depth of knowledge about each of his players.

There’s Hanna Gardner, the walk-on freshman who didn’t even make the travel squad for last week’s trip to Portland but played a key role in holding Florida scoreless.

“What I like about that kid is that she fights, she’s got some skill, she’s actually got a soccer brain,” Dorrance said of Gardner, who replaced injured senior Megan Brigman at left back. “She’s going to be a fine player to fill in what could have been an incredible hole for us in the back.”

There’s Amber Brooks, the unquestioned leader of the team whom Dorrance calls “one of the best collegiate players in the country.”

Brooks, a senior who came close to scoring three times against Florida, lived up to her coach’s billing.

“I’ve always kind of looked at myself as a leader,” Brooks said. “Obviously with the quality we’re missing, I have to step up a little more on the field.”

The coach is also known for his wit, and he didn’t disappoint this weekend.

“Chapel Hill East, baby: the gold mine of girls’ soccer in America,” Dorrance said in reference to Gardner and Caitlin Ball, two East Chapel Hill graduates, composing two-thirds of his starting defense.

So it’s this mixture of experience and knowledge, of humor and ease, of care and passion, that has powered Dorrance through 800 career games.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Dorrance said. “I absolutely love working for the University of North Carolina, (and) I love coaching these young women. I think that’s a testament to longevity.”

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