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The Daily Tar Heel

Comeback Casey

The North Carolina women?s soccer team celebrates after winning its 19th national championship. Junior Casey Nogueira scored both UNC?s goals to bring the Tar Heels back from a 1-0 deficit after Notre Dame scored only 16 seconds into the match. North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance called Nogueira?s strikes ?two of the most phenomenal goals I?ve ever seen.?

DEC. 7 CARY — Forward Casey Nogueira had shown all season that she was one of the top players in the country.

But Nogueira's 23 goals in 27 games would be little consolation if her team scored none in the national championship game.

So on her sport's biggest stage Nogueira proved her worth — twice.

The first a bullet of a free kick just after halftime tied the game.

The second a hanging ball shot from a narrow angle" cruised just enough to get over Notre Dame goalkeeper Kelsey Lysander's fingertips while still dipping under the crossbar on its way into the back of the net.

Those two goals by Nogueira — one with each foot — were enough to earn North Carolina a 2-1 victory against Notre Dame on Dec. 7 to secure UNC's 19th NCAA championship and 20th national title.

""On the greatest platform that we have" which is the championship final she scored two of the most phenomenal goals I've ever seen" coach Anson Dorrance said.

Nogueira was honored with the Honda Sports Award as the best women's soccer player in the country after the season.

But despite Nogueira's showcase, it was the Tar Heels (25-1-2) who were wide-eyed to start the final at WakeMed Soccer Park on a windy Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame's Kerri Hanks put her team ahead only 16 seconds after the starting whistle when the Irish took the opening possession directly to the goal.

We were a little bit cold. We were caught flat-footed" and I think they took advantage of it" goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris said.

The Tar Heels were ready for Notre Dame's near-reckless physical play, as the Irish took a grueling 1-0 win in Chapel Hill on Sept. 9 for UNC's only loss in 2008.

That match was also the only time all season that UNC was held scoreless, which was an achievement in itself only a year after the lowest-scoring season in school history. But Dorrance recruited a class full of attacking talent and the Tar Heels registered a very respectable 3.18 goals per game average, thanks to the arrival of strikers Courtney Jones, Jessica McDonald and a solid group of reserves.

The veteran coach also moved a veteran striker, Whitney Engen, to center back in a somewhat risky move. Engen slipped right into the role and led the defense, despite a broken wrist, in the Tar Heels' unforgiving climb to the title.

They came from behind and won in double overtime against Texas A&M; in the third round, and they had to beat two undefeated teams in the College Cup to win it all.

It was the best competition I could have hoped for in a national championship"" Nogueira said.

The Tar Heels won it all while missing two of the top players on their roster. Nikki Washington and Meghan Klingenberg, who scored 12 goals and 10 assists combined in the regular season, missed the entire NCAA tournament.

The duo were playing for the U.S. team in the FIFA Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile while their teammates fought through the competition at the College Cup.

The final added another layer to a deepening rivalry with the Irish, who have met the Tar Heels in the postseason three years running. That streak includes a third-round UNC loss at Fetzer Field in 2007 and the 2006 title game.

The Tar Heels won that game (by an identical score) so nearly half of this year's squad had already had a championship experience against the Irish.

One thing we definitely remember from playing them is how physical they are"" Harris said. They battle the whole 90 minutes. It was a bit of a shock when we played them the last two times.""

The win gave Dorrance his 20th title in 30 years as head coach of the Tar Heels only a year after one of the team's earliest exits from the NCAA Tournament ever.

The veteran coach" asked what he would remember about this year's squad" could speak only about the team's remarkable chemistry.

""The only way I could get the kids to shut up in the pregame is if I threatened to throw people out. This team has a wonderful kind of joyous anarchy" Dorrance said. I'm certainly not in control of it" but it was one of the most joyful seasons ever.""

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