But the players did not let any of these things distract them from their immediate goal.
“We understand what it means for a team to beat us,” Coach Anson Dorrance said. “So I think we’re circled anyway.”
Like their coach, the UNC players are not paying much attention to their new title as top team in the nation.
They understand that playing for UNC — a program with 22 national championships — means always getting the other teams’ best shots, no matter what the rankings say.
“As North Carolina, we’re used to having targets on our back,” said redshirt senior Alexa Newfield, who scored the first goal in UNC’s win over the Eagles.
While the players are happy to start October ranked as the nation’s best team, they also understand there are still many games left.
The Tar Heels will still face No. 2 Florida State, No. 22 Duke, No. 14 Notre Dame and No. 7 Clemson before the end of the regular season.
And with the No. 1 ranking to their name, the Tar Heels know other top teams are hunting for their position.
“They’d all like to have a North Carolina scalp,” Dorrance said. “So being No. 1 doesn’t improve that scalp. It’s still a North Carolina scalp.”
For UNC, a program that has never gone more than two seasons between national championships, the bar is always set higher than a top ranking.
And with two years elapsed since their previous championship — and most recent No. 1 ranking — the Tar Heels know they have to keep working to return to their previous dominance.
“We have to realize that every minute of every practice we can still improve,” said senior defender Paige Nielsen.
For now, North Carolina holds the top spot in the country. But without reclaiming the championship crown, the ranking means nothing.
“You’re not really number one until the last day of the season,” Newfield said.