It wouldn’t be crazy to think UNC is just happy to be in San Jose. But the team still knows when to turn it on— a trait Coach Anson Dorrance likened to his 2008 squad, which he dubbed “The Anarchists.”
Dorrance remembered waiting for that team ahead of the national final against Notre Dame. The players were taking part in their pregame dance party and exited the locker room with only 15 minutes to warm up. The Tar Heels conceded a goal 16 seconds in, but buckled down to win the game 2-1.
This team might not be able to afford an early deficit this weekend, as UNC is 83rd in the country in scoring. But it might not have to. Dorrance said the team’s practices this week have been phenomenal — a relief for him with the competition the Tar Heels are set to play in the College Cup.
Know your foe
West Virginia poses a lot of issues for UNC, most of which will come from the Mountaineers’ star Canadian seniors: midfielder Ashley Lawrence and defender Kadeisha Buchanan.
Both are starters for the Canadian national team and won a bronze medal playing for their country at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The pair anchors a lineup known for its defense. The Mountaineers have given up nine goals in 25 games this season, good for second in the country. The Tar Heels are used to low scores, having won their last two games by 1-0 margins, but West Virginia is a completely different animal.
If North Carolina advances past the Mountaineers, a date with Southern California could be in the cards. The Trojans beat UNC 3-0 on Sept. 11 — just the fourth game since 1985 in which the Tar Heels lost by more than a goal — but a rematch in the national final would be the perfect time to get revenge.
It’s a scenario Dorrance wants his team to be in. North Carolina was embarrassed by Southern California earlier in the season. Winning a national final against the Trojans would be symbolic of how far this team has come since September.
One final ride
A common theme with this team is that UNC hasn’t won a national title in three years. If the Tar Heels don’t win one this weekend, it will be the first time any four-year player has gone without winning an NCAA championship.
Dorrance has said repeatedly he doesn’t put pressure on his players to live up to that impossible standard, but it’s still something that is surely weighing on the minds of the team’s true seniors — Cameron Castleberry, Sarah Ashley Firstenberg and Darcy McFarlane.
If the Tar Heels fail to win it all this weekend, the broken streak could end up being their legacy. But so could this team’s improbable run to the College Cup, regardless of outcome this weekend.