It’s settled, then. Alex Kimball wants to play for one of college sport’s most prolific dynasties, that of 22 national championships , of perennial trophy-hoisting designs, of the unspoken creed to carry forward the program’s essence: The Tar Heels win. They rinse. They repeat.
But change arrives. Kimball’s not the wide-eyed idolizer of O’Reilly and Maxwell anymore. She’s almost 19. She’s trotting out to the pitch Friday night at Fetzer Field, starting at forward against Missouri in a preseason scrimmage. She looks around. “It’s surreal,” she says. She later scores the lone goal in No. 4 UNC’s sloppy 2-1 loss to unranked Missouri .
She looks around again and sees what she didn’t understand years ago: the tectonic plates that once held steadfast to UNC’s dominance are drifting.
There are internal forces. UNC lost eight starters, namely Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai — the team’s offensive engine that accounted for half of the goals in 2013 before going No. 1 and No. 2 respectively in the National Women’s Soccer League draft . Four more joined the professional ranks. A spate of concussions forced defensive stalwart Caitlin Ball to retire before her senior year . Alexa Newfield , a potent goal-scoring threat cut from the same fabric as Dunn and Ohai, can’t play through chronic knee troubles. Katie Bowen , an unrelenting presence in the midfield, will miss the start of the season while playing with the New Zealand national team at the U-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada .