DURHAM - If the North Carolina women's soccer team and its fans were elated following the Tar Heels' dominating performance in the ACC tournament this weekend, just think how the groundskeepers must feel.
Surely, the men and women who tend the field at Koskinen Stadium were off somewhere toasting the beauty of the rule that teams must switch sides after halftime.
Had that rule not been in effect, the side of the field that UNC attacked would have gotten awfully chewed up - and the other side would have been in near-mint condition.
Applying an overwhelming amount of defensive pressure, particularly up top, UNC limited its three opponents to six shots and one goal and pitched consecutive shutouts against Florida State and Duke.
"They compact the field. They make it small, so it's easy for them to help each other," said Blue Devils coach Bill Hempen after UNC beat his team 4-0 in the finals Sunday. "The midfielders help the defenders, the midfielders help the forwards, the forwards help the midfielders. It's a team effort defensively."
As it has for much of the season, UNC's defensive push began with senior forward Meredith Florance.
While Florance's offensive prowess might draw her the most attention - her 22 goals lead the nation - her defensive play has been just as phenomenal this season.
At no time was that facet of her game more apparent than in the second half of UNC's
3-0 semifinal defeat of Florida State on Friday.
After chesting a Seminole throw-in along the right sideline, Florance collected the ball and raced 80 yards downfield. It took a lunging save from FSU goalkeeper Sarah Crawford to deflect Florance's shot just wide right.
"I think people forget about her defensively. She has probably been our best defender at times even though she's a forward," midfielder Jena Kluegel said. "Her presence up top has been contagious to everyone else on the team."
Florance must have started breathing on the Tar Heels' water bottles after UNC yielded a goal in the 10th minute of a 5-1 quarterfinal win against N.C. State on Thursday.
FSU took its first shot of Friday's game in the 52nd minute. Duke, meanwhile, got its only shot of Sunday's contest in the 59th minute.
"There's pressure all around you at all times," Duke midfielder Kim Daws said. "It's not just one person or a double team - it's a triple team or four people on you at one time."
After UNC's dominating performance this weekend, it's easy to forget that its defense was one of its biggest questions entering the season.
Having lost defenders Lorrie Fair and Lindsay Stoecker and midfielder Rebekah McDowell, it appeared that UNC would be yielding more than its share of goals this season.
However, senior Julia Marslender, who was named to the all-tournament team, has performed admirably in the back, and freshman Maggie Tomecka has used her height and strength to fill the hole left by McDowell.
Said UNC coach Anson Dorrance, "Our organization and relentless pressure were about as good as I've ever seen."
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