After an undefeated regular season and securing its sixth regional championship win in seven years, the North Carolina women’s club soccer team will travel to Foley, Alabama, to compete in nationals against the top club soccer teams in America.
But in addition to proving they are one of the best teams in the country, the Tar Heels will also be playing for something much bigger — honoring former coach Lars Van Dam, who died in late 2019.
After the devastating loss, the UNC club soccer community reflected on the immense impact he and his coaching had on the players and the entire athletic community.
Van Dam began coaching the team in 2008, and continued to do so until his death due to complications from cancer. After his death, the women’s club soccer program and alums developed a list of core values that aligned with Van Dam’s teachings, which then became known as “The House that Lars Built.”
Christiana Wayne, a current junior on the team, never personally met Van Dam, but said she understands the importance of honoring his legacy and playing to his standards.
“I feel like a byproduct of the legacy of Lars and Lars himself,” Wayne said. “I never met him, but I feel like I know exactly what he was about. And I still feel pressure to live up to his expectations even though he's gone.”
Ryan McCord, one of the team’s coaches, was coached by Van Dam during her undergraduate years at UNC, and interacted with his principles firsthand. Now, she is able to take what she learned as a player to help her team succeed.
“I think all of us have had a lot of coaches over the years, but it was so evident that this team meant so much to Lars,” McCord said. “You walked in and you felt like you were on an incredibly important team and that you were doing something important.”
The consistent strength of this team is clear, especially since they are the only club soccer team to receive nine straight invitations to the NIRSA National Championships.
Despite the team’s regional success, UNC has never won a national championship, but the players and coaches remain confident in their ability to succeed.
“We still haven't won a national tournament as a team — that's been sort of like the dangling carrot for us for a really long time now,” McCord said. “I think some years you can just sort of feel it, like the energy feels right. And what's been really exciting for us as coaches this year is this is one of those years where things feel really right.”
The Tar Heels will begin their quest for a title Nov. 18, when the three-day national tournament begins in Alabama.
While club sports do receive some money from Campus Recreation for events such as these, the team has started a GoFundMe to reach their goal of $7,000. This money will allow the athletes and coaches to provide for themselves on the road and focus on the task at hand — competing for a national championship.
“I feel like we're really excited to roll into nationals with some confidence and feeling like we have something to prove,” said Patterson Sheehan, a current senior on the team. “Anything that people give is so kind and we're definitely so grateful, it is really a weight off our shoulders when people do.”
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