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The Daily Tar Heel

Keeping the ball rolling

Tobin Heath" middle and teammates must compensate for the loss of two of North Carolina?s offensive starters including Meghan Klingenberg (4) in the first NCAA Tournament game.

On the eve of the NCAA Tournament Nikki Washington and Meghan Klingenberg two of the North Carolina women's soccer team's best players are preparing for the biggest games of their lives.

The only problem? They are in Chillan Chile — over 5000 miles from Chapel Hill.

Their teammates will lace up their cleats against Western Carolina in a first-round game today at Fetzer Field.

But Washington and Klingenberg will be preparing for the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup.

Instead of jockeying for position against Notre Dame or UCLA defenders in the Final Four the pair will be trying to find cracks in the defenses of Argentina and France.

Even with a team loaded with All-Americans their absence will visibly hurt the Tar Heels. Each made the 2008 ACC All-Tournament team and they did it coming off the bench.

Klingenberg assisted on three of the Tar Heels' six tournament goals and Washington scored one of them.

But the program is used to these types of absences. Coach Anson Dorrance considers losing his best players to other larger" soccer commitments routine.

""We've lost elite players to world events on a regular basis"" Dorrance said. We accept that. We're going to try to recruit the kind of player that can make these teams.""

The Tar Heels have many players who do play on the international level" as seven players on the current roster have made at least one appearance for the United States Under-20 national team.

With an eye toward the future Dorrance played Washington and Klingenberg less during the end of the season. They combined to start 22 of a possible 40 games between them" while notching the eighth- and ninth-most minutes on the team.

They played even fewer minutes in the ACC Tournament so the team could adjust to their absence.

""We're trying to shape a starting frontline and a starting unit without them" Dorrance said after North Carolina's 2-0 win against Boston College in the ACC semifinals.

Obviously if these kids weren't leaving" they'd be in the starting lineup somewhere. We're trying to wean ourselves from them.""

The duo left Tuesday for Chile" but they will be continuing their schoolwork with the University through the independent studies and online courses they signed up for during the summer.

With their exits looming" both players wanted to make sure they didn't shortchange their team.

""We just want to get them in the best possible position before we leave"" Washington said.

The way you play shows how much you care and how much you love them. We only have a limited amount of time to do that.""

To leave their college team in such fashion underscores how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to work toward achieving their dream of being on the U.S. National Team later on down the road.

""That's one of my dreams" to make the full national team and that was also a part of the decision-making in doing this" Klingenberg said.

I really want to show them that I can compete at an international level.""

As a number of their teammates have been in the same situation"" the squad has been empathetic toward the decision.

""Everyone's been super-supportive"" Klingenberg said. I can't think of one person who hasn't been awesome. It's a great opportunity.""

But that does not mean the decision was easy for them.

""Once I made (the decision to go to U-20s)" it got tougher after the fact" Washington said. You don't realize what you're really getting yourself into.

""Emotions are stronger than I ever would have imagined"" even in terms of academics. Our team was not as close when I made the decision.""

But the two are not worried about disrupting the team chemistry in the most important part of the year.

Klingenberg said she thinks the team still has the firepower to win without them.

""I knew that this team had a great chance to win without us and that I also have three more years.

""But it was especially hard (to leave)"" because I love my teammates.""

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