The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Looking at Dorrance Off Field

I expected to walk into a fortress of sorts, a castle that housed the king of women's soccer.

What pictures could Anson Dorrance possibly have hanging in his house? So many moments during his illustrious career have been captured in publications across the country. Which ones would actually make it on his walls?

The door opened easily, and the front hallway looked inviting rather than intimidating.

A pair of children's soccer cleats were strewn across the floor. A cat careened down the stairs to see who was visiting.

Sunlight wafted in through large living room windows that opened to a wrap-around deck that looked like it was custom-made for soccer team parties.

"Hello!" M'Liss Dorrance called from the front hall. She offered me a drink and sat down to chat in the living room. Per my request, she began searching for old photos of her husband during his days as a wild-haired, 135-pound North Carolina soccer player. She recounted amusing stories as she sorted through piles of memoirs.

Three weeks ago, Dorrance and M'Liss traveled to California with assistant coach Bill Palladino and his wife, Wendy, to see former player Tisha Venturini get married. Because they made a quick stop at a Taco Bell to stave off their hunger, the foursome was late for the wedding. They arrived just as the bride was about to enter the church. Instead of being angry with her former coaches, Venturini laughed. She remembered the craziness that encapsulated her time as a player, and it made her feel more at ease than she had felt all day.

By now, M'Liss says she is used to the insane schedules and unexpected occurrences. Her peaceful demeanor reminded me of the cool, calm and collected Dorrance I had spoken to so many times after games. She looked me in the eyes and made me feel at home.

I asked her what it was like to be the first lady of the UNC women's soccer team. If Dorrance is the father, does she feel like the mother?

She didn't have to say yes or no. She just told me a story.

Maggie Tomecka was traveling to Europe recently and forgot her passport. It was locked in her dorm room during a University holiday, and she needed it to travel. M'Liss saved the day by talking her way into Tomecka's room so she could send her passport on its way.

Only my mom would do that for me.

After visiting the Dorrance home, I had an inkling of what to expect when I drove to watch Dorrance and his buddies play roller hockey after practice. M'Liss' humorous stories made me curious about Dorrance as a competitor off the sideline and on the field.

As the men put their skates on and traded stories, I remembered Dorrance telling me how stupid male bonding is. But watching him with his buddies, it was apparent he enjoyed himself just as much as the next guy.

"AD!" yells UNC goalkeeper coach Chris Ducar. "I'm open in the center!"

Dorrance passed Ducar the ball and the duo scored their second goal of the evening. It was Wednesday night, which means one thing for Dorrance and his staff: roller hockey.

The bi-weekly ritual began several years ago, when former UNC soccer star Mia Hamm came back and got married in Chapel Hill. With so many prominent athletes in town, some sort of competition was inevitable. Now Dorrance, Ducar and Palladino try to play at least two times a week.

I went into that day expecting to gain some insight, something that would give my Dorrance piece for today's paper an edge. But in the end, I gained so much more than an angle.

Family-like rituals really are as much a part of the women's soccer program as national titles are.

And Anson Dorrance truly is the father of women's soccer.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Kelly Lusk can be reached at

Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Women's Tennis Victory Paper