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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC Looks to Ground Pilots

An all too familiar situation for the Tar Heels, who have won the NCAA Tournament 16 times.

But at 5 p.m. today at Gerald Ford Stadium, UNC will face its biggest challenge of the season in the semifinal match against a formidable and unfamiliar opponent -- Portland.

"We don't play them often, but they are always good," said senior midfielder Jena Kluegel. "They have a lot of skilled players and play a really organized game. It will be an exciting game -- it deserves to be."

Both teams want to get on the scoreboard early, but both squads have also proved they can come back to win.

UNC looked like it was going to get an early boot from the tourney when it faced Rutgers. The Tar Heels were down a goal for 52 minutes before scoring twice to win.

The Pilots had a scare of their own in a quarterfinal contest against Texas A&M. The Aggies scored early, but Portland rallied to score four goals and earn a trip to Dallas for the final four.

UNC coach Anson Dorrance said that although he would like the Tar Heels to drive every opponent into the ground, the close tournament games have instilled in his team an automatic response to challenges.

"There's a spin on everything, sort of like politics," Dorrance said. "If we had blown out every team, we would be riding a great wave of momentum. But since we've weaved in and out of playing well, we've learned to deal with adversity."

Both teams acknowledge the talent of their opponent, but neither coach is doing anything drastic to prepare for tonight's match. Defender Danielle Borgman said practice has been a bit more intense, but that the Tar Heels (23-0) stuck with their usual routine for the last week of practice.

Portland coach Clive Charles said it was pointless for the Pilots (20-3) to change their preparation just for UNC.

"Nothing can really prepare you to play against North Carolina," Charles said. "It will all come down to individual talent on Friday. Tactics don't win games. If individuals can't get their job done, tactics won't work."

One of Portland's 20 wins this season was against Nebraska -- a team that defeated UNC 1-0 in a preseason game.

"The fact that they beat Nebraska speaks a great deal," Borgman said. "Clive Charles really knows how to get it done. But we are mentally prepared. The high pressure situation is suited for a typical Carolina-style game."

And if all goes according to "typical Carolina style," UNC will advance to the 3 p.m. championship game on Sunday to defend its national title.

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

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