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The Daily Tar Heel

Seniors Aim to Recapture NCAA Title

"We were just a bunch of scrubs," said McCann, now a senior forward.

No one would call them "scrubs" now.

McCann was named the ACC Player of the Year and has a shot at national honors. Back Jana Toepel has earned All-America honors for two consecutive years and looks to make it three at the end of this reason.

The three others - forward Holly Huff, midfielder Kate Sidebottom and back Erin Cox - have carved out a niche for themselves in the Tar Heel starting lineup.

When the players began their playing careers - UNC coach Karen Shelton red-shirted the lot of them in 1996 - they were members of the 1997 Tar Heel national title team.

Now, those five seniors are looking to win another championship ring.

UNC left town Wednesday to travel to Old Dominion, the site of the NCAA final four. After breezing through the first two rounds, the Tar Heels will face Maryland on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

"I thought it was a very good class," Shelton said. "But at the time, I would not have dreamed that they would have developed into five incredible student-athletes and leaders like they have."

McCann leads the Tar Heels with 24 goals and has edged her way onto the UNC all-time lists for career goals scored (tied for sixth) and points (seventh).

McCann said the difference between playing at a final four this year and in 1997 is her expectations for herself.

"I feel a lot more responsibility on my shoulders," McCann said. "Back then, there was Cindy (Werley), there was Kate (Barber), there was Nancy (Pelligreen). Who was I? I wasn't anybody. I didn't feel the pressure, but now I feel the responsibility to play my best the whole time."

Still, McCann contributed in 1997 to the team effort. She scored the game-winning goal in the 5-4 win against Princeton in the semifinals.

McCann didn't feel any pressure because she was playing behind possibly the greatest forward line in UNC history, made up of Barber, Pelligreen and Werley. Between the three of them and with Joy Driscoll in the midfield, the Tar Heels were a force and captured three consecutive national titles.

Toepel said she couldn't even compare herself to Barber and couldn't say how good this year's seniors were compared to Barber, Driscoll and Werley.

Toepel started every game at sweeper for the Tar Heels in 1997. She switched this year to right back, an important position considering the Tar Heels concentrate their attack on the right side of the field.

"I hope I'm a different player (than in 1997)," Toepel said. "I was really scared that year, and I had an amazing support system around me of talented players, and the cool thing is that I've got that same support system this year."

That support system includes All-ACC goalkeeper Amy Tran, right midfielder Meredith Keller, center midfielder Carrie Lingo and All-ACC sweeper Abby Martin.

And of course, her fellow seniors. The seniors account for 58 percent of UNC's total points and have scored 14 game-winning goals.

Now, with the season almost over, the five seniors will try to defeat Maryland to move into the national-title game and return the NCAA championship to Chapel Hill.

"I know they're strong," Toepel said. "But I think if we play the way we can and don't lose our concentration or sight of the game plan and play with heart, it doesn't matter who we're up against."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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