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The Daily Tar Heel

Men's Soccer Wins 1st National Title

She had seemingly smiled on the North Carolina men's soccer team from nearly the beginning of its run to the 2001 NCAA College Cup Championship and even saw the Tar Heels through three straight overtime victories -- including a four-overtime comeback win against Stanford in the national semifinal.

But fate wasn't brought up at all this weekend. In her place stood determination, confidence and experience.

And with those influential allies, UNC not only advanced to its first national title game, but it beat favorite Indiana to capture the program's first College Cup crown.

Led by an early goal by forward Ryan Kneipper, a stifling defense and a late penalty kick score by defender Danny Jackson, the Tar Heels denied the Hoosiers their sixth championship Sunday afternoon, winning 2-0 before 7,113 at a cold and rainy Columbus Crew Stadium.

"You couldn't ask for any more than that," Jackson said. "If we got to the final four and had lost to Stanford, people could've said, "We've had a good season; it's been a great ride.

"But we knew we had the ability, and we had the drive and the determination and the character to pull it through."

North Carolina's ability to get on the board early changed the entire face of the game. At the start of the match, Indiana (18-4-1) established its traditional offensive attack, predicated on a ball- possession game that moves the ball upfield with a variety of passes on the ground.

The Hoosiers also used its trademark man-to-man defense to frustrate the Tar Heels' forwards in the game's opening minutes. But it didn't take long for North Carolina (21-4) to use its direct style to exploit IU's lack of height and inability to win balls in the air.

In the game's 12th minute, UNC midfielder Grant Porter chipped a pass down the right sideline to a breaking Matt Crawford. Crawford ran to the ball, took several dribbles and lofted a cross toward Indiana's six-yard box.

The 6-foot-3 Kneipper sprinted alongside IU defender John Swann toward the incoming ball, but Hoosier goalkeeper Colin Rogers called off the 5-foot-10 Swann and attempted to out-jump Kneipper.

It was a costly mistake. Kneipper beat Rogers to the ball, and when the Indiana keeper tried to snatch the ball out of the air, Kneipper headed it into the back of the IU net for a 1-0 North Carolina lead.

"I don't want to put the blame on Colin, but he did call the ball, and our defender did drop off," said Indiana coach Jerry Yeagley. "Goalkeepers make mistakes. (When) field players make mistakes, it doesn't cost goals; goalkeepers do. I think Colin gets that ball nine times out of 10."

The Hoosiers' Ryan Hammer, a 6-foot-3 defender, marked Kneipper during the entire match but was caught out of position on the play when he began running toward the sideline before Crawford's cross, thinking that Porter's pass was heading out of bounds.

It didn't, and the Tar Heels had the advantage against an Indiana team that had allowed just seven goals the entire season.

"I thought the first goal was crucial," Yeagley said. "They kept a lot of people back and countered. I didn't think they could hold the lead and hold up with extra people back, but they did, and more credit to them."

But throughout the rest of the first half, IU battled back and created viable scoring opportunities for itself. The Hoosiers' offensive leaders, Mike Ambersley and first-team All-American Pat Noonan, took advantage of their speed and ball-handling skills to earn chances to tie the score as the half progressed.

Ambersley finished a 26th-minute run through the UNC midfield with a quick move by Jackson, the Tar Heels' All-American central defender. But the Indiana freshman couldn't get his 16-yard shot by Tar Heel keeper Michael Ueltschey, who held his line and dove to his left to knock the ball away from danger.

Then, with less than 30 seconds remaining in the half, IU reserve Michael Bock stepped in front of a lazy North Carolina pass at midfield and proceeded to send a through ball to Noonan. The junior forward dribbled toward Ueltschey and fired a shot from about 15 yards that the UNC keeper was able to kick save.

"It was very easy to read which way he was going," Ueltschey said. "He had a bad angle because he was coming in from the side, so I just stood my ground, and he hit it right into me."

The Hoosiers' Ned Grabavoy was fouled by Grant Porter at the top of the 18-yard box on the ensuing scramble for the rebound, but referee Bob Martinez ruled that Porter tripped Grabavoy just outside the penalty area. The North Carolina wall stopped Noonan's free kick, and the half ended without an Indiana goal.

As it turns out, that possession was IU's best chance to put itself on the board. At halftime, Bolowich stressed the importance of forcing the Hoosiers' offensive players to the flanks and away from the center of the field, a place from which they had been successful scoring during the year.

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"They wouldn't allow us to do what we like to do, and that's move the ball on the ground and try to work the defense in," Noonan said. "We're not used to not getting plenty of scoring chances in a game."

And in the second half, Indiana had just one shot. UNC's flat-back, three-man defensive zone was bolstered by Bolowich's decision to bring several midfielders behind the ball, which gave the Hoosiers little opportunity to move freely in their offensive third of the field.

David Stokes, who was named the College Cup?' most valuable defensive player, did a particularly good job of stopping Noonan, who entered the game with 16 goals and 12 assists this season.

"He was a very crafty player, and he did a lot of cuts and stuff, and it was tough to stay with him because of the conditions," Stokes said. "I tried to keep him to the outside, and when he did try to go outside, I was more effective."

And in the game's 75th minute, the Tar Heels' countered to put the game essentially out of Indiana's reach. Marcus Storey broke free on a run up the middle of the field, paused at the top of the box and blew by Indiana defender Josh Rife.

Rife reached out and grabbed Storey's jersey, pulling the freshman to the ground and giving North Carolina a penalty kick. Unlike the TarHeels' 1-0, third-round win against American in which Mike Gell missed a penalty kick with the game deadlocked in a scoreless tie, Jackson asserted himself as the team's leader and stepped up to the penalty mark.

The senior captain from England blasted a bullet to the top left corner of the net to give the Tar Heels a two-goal cushion, nearly assuring himself and his teammates the title about which they had dreamed since arriving in Chapel Hill.

"Absolutely amazing," Jackson said. "You couldn't write a better story."

Game Notes

* Ambersley and Noonan were All-Tournament selections for the Hoosiers, while Crawford, Jackson, Kneipper, Stokes and Ueltschey all made the team for the Tar Heels. Kneipper was also tabbed as the College Cup's most valuable offensive player.

* The Hoosiers now have been to the final four 15 times -- including five in a row -- and have qualified for the postseason in each season since 1987. They are now 5-6 in championship games. Only San Francisco, with 10 titles, has more championships than Indiana.

* This year, North Carolina became the first school to send both its men and women's teams to the championship game in soccer. The UNC women lost 1-0 to Santa Clara in last weekend's title match. Only 10 times in NCAA history have a school's men and women's teams reached the final four in the same year.

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