After four years of ups and downs, North Carolina women's soccer defender Tori Hansen is achieving her dream of playing in the National Women's Soccer League.
The senior center back was selected by the Orlando Pride on Jan. 12 as the first pick of the third round and the 25th overall selection. As she moves into the next phase of her career, Hansen will be relying on the lessons she learned at UNC to reach her new goals.
Hansen’s move to the NWSL caps off a senior season that she said exceeded her expectations. Hansen changed positions from center defensive midfielder to center back before the season started. She thrived in her new role, playing 110 minutes at the position in the NCAA title game and becoming a finalist for the Class of 2023’s Honda Sport Award for Soccer, given to the best player in the nation.
Hansen hasn’t let the accolades go to her head. When talking about her future in Orlando, she was more excited about the prospect of learning from the greats than any potential new titles. Playing alongside forward Marta is a specific dream of hers.
"She’s a soccer legend and someone I’ve grown up watching,” Hansen said. “Just being able to be on the same field as her, there’s gonna be so many learning moments to see how she acts on and off the field.”
Her childhood hero isn't the only familiar face she will see on the field. Hansen is the first Tar Heel drafted to the Orlando Pride, but will face several former teammates in the NWSL.
Two of those former teammates — North Carolina Courage midfielder Brianna Pinto and OL Reign goalkeeper Claudia Dickey — will provide valuable support for Hansen in her adjustment to life as a pro.
Pinto explained that once soccer becomes a job, it can put pressure on a player’s sense of identity unless they have a fulfilling life outside of the sport. For Dickey, who joined the NWSL in 2022, scheduling was a major adjustment because of her newfound free time.
“Every day, we go into training, we work hard, we do what we love,” Dickey said. “The hardest part is figuring out what to do after.”
Hansen has been planning for the time spent after soccer. She said she was talking to her parents about volunteering in Orlando, and that she specifically wanted to work with kids.
Despite her own struggles in adjusting to the NWSL, Dickey said she is not concerned because Hansen has faced similar challenges already.
“She’s worked for everything in her life, it’s never been easy,” Dickey said. “She’s always been one of the people that I’ve looked up to in terms of working hard no matter what you get.”
Beyond skill and work ethic, Hansen — much like Dickey and Pinto — has had the added preparation of playing under UNC head coach Anson Dorrance. The Tar Heels are held to the league’s high standards due to Dorrance’s competitive cauldron.
Hansen described the cauldron as a series of rankings in various skill categories. The stats of every player throughout the year, especially during practice, count towards the cauldron. The rankings are then compiled to give each team member a sense of their playing level.
“I think we have one of the most professional environments, training-wise," Hansen said. "We compete so much with our teammates every single day, and I think it’s very similar in the NWSL.”
There are no prizes for whoever is at the top, but Pinto said the mindset gained from the cauldron is essential for professional soccer.
“You have to prove yourself every single day,” Pinto said. “You have to consciously monitor how well you did and what adjustments you make so you can be better the next day.”
Hansen said she is trying not to focus too much on her future. After all, she's not even a week removed from signing her contract.
However, at this point in time, thanks to the examples of her former Tar Heel teammates, she has more confidence in herself knowing the work she has already put in.
"They didn’t just get there (to the NWSL) by going to UNC," she said. "They had to work their butts off to get to UNC and they had to work their butts off to get to the Courage, or whatever teams they're at."
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