In 43 years of coaching service, Anson Dorrance has walked the sidelines of North Carolina soccer matches over 1,000 times — at the old Fetzer Field, the new UNC Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium and venues across the country and the world.
But this weekend was still a first for the dynastic women’s soccer coach. As of Sunday, he’s 1-0 on Dorrance Field.
After the field was officially dedicated in a private, pregame ceremony for players, coaches and alumni, the No. 4 Tar Heels beat Notre Dame, 3-0, to move to 10-1 this season and christen the newly named pitch in the process. They even gave their coach an improvised postgame Gatorade bath, using their water bottles in tandem since they didn’t have a cooler to dump on him.
“We know all the clichés,” Dorrance said. “We’re in the Southern part of heaven. So to have a piece of heaven named after you is just extraordinary.”
The 22-time national champion ensured he put no extra pressure on his players. But Bridgette Andrzejewski, a senior forward, said the pregame pomp and circumstance “put things in perspective.” She and her fellow seniors were the ones who pulled a tarp off the wall under the press box, revealing, for the first time, the Carolina Blue signage that bore their coach’s name.
“We wanted to start off on the right foot,” Andrzejewski said. “We knew we had to get the result for him at the end of the day and christen this stadium.”
She did just that in the 28th minute, tapping in a deflected shot by forward Ru Mucherera for the opening goal of the match. In the 61st minute, she added an assist on an impressive back-heel flick by midfielder Brianna Pinto.
Andrzejewski, Dorrance aptly noted, was also the first player to score in the UNC Soccer & Lacrosse Stadium, the team’s new venue as of this season. There was no exact science to those opportune goals — “just lucky,” she said with a smile — but Andrzejewski agreed scoring on such a day was special.
“People always say this, and it's true: he's really impacted my character,” she said of Dorrance. “As much as I've succeeded because of his coaching and the players around me, I've really succeeded in my character development. I can give that one to him, for sure.”
It was a weekend of praise for Dorrance, whose 22 national titles are the most of any men’s or women’s ACC sports program. On Friday, men’s basketball head coach Roy Williams surprised his longtime coaching friend by inviting him onto the court to “feel the love” of a packed Smith Center at Late Night with Roy and called him "the best coach I've ever been around."
At halftime of Sunday’s match, Dorrance briefly addressed the crowd as interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and athletic director Bubba Cunningham flanked him. In the concourse, the athletic department handed out Dorrance Field T-shirts as a video tribute with a recorded message from UNC great and current volunteer assistant coach Heather O’Reilly played.
“Who doesn't know Anson Dorrance?” junior defender and England native Lotte Wubben-Moy said. “Whenever I go back home, people question UNC, but they don't question Anson Dorrance when I say his name. I think that speaks to his reputation.”
After the win, Dorrance shook hands, took photos and laughed with old friends. His standard coaching outfit of khaki pants, a button-down with a tie and a ballcap had been soaked, but he didn’t mind.
“I feel on top of Cloud Nine,” he said with a smile.
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