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The Daily Tar Heel

Women's Soccer Raises Bar in Postseason Play

Each year, UNC women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance divides the team's playing season into three components -- regular season, ACC tournament and NCAA tournament. And each year, the system, meshed with the individual talents that each player brings, makes the Tar Heels a tournament team.

The records are there. UNC has played in every ACC title championship match since 1989, winning all but the first one with a loss to N.C. State in penalty kicks.

The NCAA title match is another game the Tar Heels are familiar with. In 20 tries, UNC has clinched 17 national titles.

But it's more than just the records. There's something about the way the Tar Heels prepare, the way they train.

"What we've done this year is we played a backbreaking schedule," Dorrance said. "That really toughens you, and a lot of teams that we played this year played without a taper, that is, they were resting while we were playing other teams. So this is a tournament where no one gets a taper. We're all on the same footing.

"It's going to be hard for a team to get used to playing without a taper unless they've done it all season."

When UNC started the season, it played several road games with very little rest in between. This type of repeated action increased the potential for injury, but also magnified the team's stamina, which grants the Tar Heels strength in the postseason.

UNC's legendary tournament prowess alone gives it an edge going into NCAA play, especially. With the Tar Heels' winning the ACC title, UNC secured not only a top-ranked spot in the tournament, but also earned home field advantage.

On Friday, North Carolina will open the first round of the NCAA tournament against Radford at 5 p.m. at Fetzer Field. Immediately following the game,Wake Forest will play William & Mary. The winners qualify for the second round, which also will be played on UNC's home field Sunday.

The Tar Heels' style of play serves as a constant reminder of UNC's domination for coaches and players, especially the veterans of Dorrance's team.

"As a player we had this attitude that was drilled into us during the course of training that was given to us by Anson," recalled former UNC player Shannon Higgins-Cirovski. "And it was kind of a refuse-to-lose attitude. It came with every game and obviously there was an extra, added enforcement of it as we went into the tournament."

Higgins-Cirovski, who now coaches Maryland, said she admires Dorrance's ability and focuses on imparting his passion for winning onto her team. Higgins-Cirovski and her Terrapins have had winning seasons each year since her hiring four years ago.

"One of the things that I always look to whenever I play against their program is I hope that when I walk off the field the one thing I can say is that we're organized, and we show great character," she said. "The same character that Anson tries to instill, I hope he sees that in my players, and I always hope he'll say, 'Hey, you've got a great team.'"

Wake Forest coach Tony da Luz faced the Tar Heels in the first round of this year's ACC tournament.

"They just have a great spirit as a team," da Luz said. "They know that at this time of year, and the NCAA tournament, that they need to focus and they need to raise their level. And that's what they do. Their consistency is unmatched."

And there's very little that other teams can do in response, said Clemson coach Todd Bramble.

"They're always going to be hard to play against, no matter if it's a Sunday or a Tuesday, day or night, regular season or ACC tournament."

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