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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Dear Anson Dorrance, after 45 seasons, it's time

20231110_Skvoretz_WSOC-NCAA-Tournament-vs-towson-588.jpg
The UNC women’s soccer team formed a huddle after their win against Towson in the first-round NCAA Division I game on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at Dorrance Field. UNC wins 3-1.

It’s a good rule of thumb not to call a game until the final whistle. Anything can happen. But sometimes it is reasonable to make a prediction and get your hopes up. Take the UNC women’s soccer team's shocking loss to BYU in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, for example. It’s 3-1, North Carolina, and there’s 10 minutes left in the game. Seems like a win. 

Then come a historic three BYU goals within those last 10 minutes, and suddenly the Tar Heels are returning to Chapel Hill defeated and empty handed. It seems like a fluke, but is it?

This stunning outcome is actually a pattern, with the match against BYU just being the boldest example.

Over the entire season, the team struggled to put up their usual numbers; although UNC did not lose a single game during the regular season, the team had an eight draws. Many women’s soccer fans fairly assessed that the Tar Heels were undeserving of their top-five rankings throughout the majority of the season. The frequency of draws quickly made the team underwhelming and even uninteresting to watch. Despite the undeniable talent on the team, the Tar Heels consistently fell short, leaving an unsatisfying feeling at the 90th minute.

Their underperformance continued into the postseason with their loss to Pitt in overtime in the ACC Tournament first round. 

The plague that has haunted UNC all season has been their weak second-half game plan, and especially their allowance of last minute goals. The trend began in the heartbreaking loss to UCLA in the 2022 NCAA Championship Finals. UNC nearly had the game won, but allowed a UCLA goal in the last 20 seconds of regulation to send it into overtime. 

A shining example of their keepaway, conservative strategy this season is their draw against Florida State in the regular season, allowing a goal from the Seminoles in the last seven seconds of the game to result in a 3-3 draw. The Tar Heels find themselves in the same situation several times: defend for a few more minutes and you win. But time and time again, that is a tall task for them.

It is a massive amount of pressure to expect the program to continuously meet their expectations when the bar is already as high as possible. For most teams, reaching the Elite 8 is a high achievement, but for UNC, it is a subpar performance. It may be unfair to consistently expect more from the team, but the Tar Heels are equipped with some of the best players and facilities in college soccer. 

Given the lengthy history of the team, success is almost always a given, but it’s becoming more difficult. Despite their ease in winning national championships in the 1980s, that kind of winning streak is unattainable due to the rise of several competitive challengers, notably Florida State, Stanford and UCLA. 

There’s no denying the immense and unmatched success head coach Anson Dorrance has brought to women’s soccer — not just at UNC, but across the country and even internationally. 

After graduating from UNC, he established the women’s soccer program in 1979. His passion for growing the presence of women’s soccer is the reason UNC is the winningest school in the sport and is miles ahead of any other team in terms of national championships. But staying when things aren’t working is a detriment to the possibility of future success.

Part of being a good leader is knowing when to step down. Take Karen Shelton, for example. She had an illustrious career as head coach of one of the most successful field hockey programs of all time. Last year, she retired and allowed the program to keep thriving under a new coach. Dorrance retiring could restart the team’s fire and put an end to the 11-year championship drought.

It’s understandable if Dorrance wants to end his career on a high, but it is at the expense of a hard-working, stacked team. If this conservative game plan is to stay, it’s doubtful that the Tar Heels will end the drought anytime soon. The rules are pretty simple, you have to score to win, and keeping the ball yards away from the box isn’t going to get the job done. Maybe it’s time for a change — a coach whose ambition is clear and is able to close out a game.

@mbnobles_

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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