North Carolina women's soccer team set for College Cup

The North Carolina women’s soccer team is no stranger to the final rounds of the NCAA Tournament. But it’s not used to being the underdog.

No. 13 UNC, which plays No. 1 Stanford at 11 p.m. today at San Diego’s Torero Stadium, enters the College Cup semifinals as the lowest seed out of the four remaining teams.

The North Carolina program has plenty of championship experience — it’s won a record 20 of the 30 NCAA tournaments. But coach Anson Dorrance said that experience won’t be enough for these Tar Heels, many of whom have never been to a College Cup.

UNC last won a title in 2009, when most of its roster was in high school. But Dorrance said even a team full of seniors wouldn’t necessarily be an advantage.

“Experience in the event might be a bit overrated,” Dorrance said. “It comes down to your confidence as a player, your talent and your competitive fire. We have some very confident players that compete and have talent, and that’s what’s going to carry them in this event — not how many times they’ve been there.”

But junior forward Kealia Ohai said the Tar Heels have a different kind of experience that will help them — the experience of being in close games and high-pressure situations.

“Early in the tournament, we weren’t as tuned-in as we could have been,” Ohai said. “Now, after the past couple of games, we’ve realized it’s just something you have to learn, it’s just something you have to know — I’m going to be frantic, I’m going to be really stressed out before I take the shot. But no matter what, I have to focus and shoot it.”

UNC’s last two tournament games were about as tense as they come. The Tar Heels beat No. 11 Baylor on penalty kicks, then upset No. 2 Brigham Young in double overtime.

Against Baylor, UNC barely got the game to overtime — forward Crystal Dunn tied the game with nine minutes left. And against BYU, midfielder Brooke Elby kept the Tar Heels’ season alive by saving a ball off the UNC goal line in overtime.

The Tar Heels will need to stay sharp against the top-seeded Cardinal. Dorrance said the Tar Heels will try to use high pressure to counter Stanford’s offense.

Before UNC’s second-round match against Illinois, Dorrance had said that in a hypothetical match against Stanford, he might start Dunn on defense to hold off the Cardinal early, then move her to offense later.

Now that the Tar Heels are actually playing Stanford, the game plan might change — and Dorrance said he didn’t want to divulge his strategy.

But he did say UNC’s pressure matches up well against the Stanford attack.

“Stanford likes to deliberately work the ball out of the back, and we like to pressure any teams that (do that),” Dorrance said. “We’ve designed our system to play against the great teams … with very sophisticated playing styles, and one of those teams is Stanford.”

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