World Premier of the New JATO Athletics Be an Athlete Commercial by SportsStudio

Sunday, December 6, 2009


That was certainly the feeling of North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance and his senior-laden team after the third-ranked Tar Heels pitched a shutout at top-ranked Stanford Sunday afternoon, prevailing 1-0 in the 2009 NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament championship game at Aggie Soccer Stadium before a stadium record crowd of 8,536.

The victory, powered by a goal by junior forward Jessica McDonald in the third minute of play, gave the Tar Heels their 20th NCAA title in the 28-year history of the NCAA Tournament, and Carolina's 21st championship in the sport overall when the 1981 AIAW title is included in the mix. UNC finished the season 23-3-1 overall and won the NCAA title with the fewest wins since the 2000 team won the title with a 21-3 mark. It was also the most losses UNC has had in an NCAA championship season since 2000 but those three regular-season losses and tie now seem like a distant memory to a team which ended the season on an 11-match winning skein.

In the process, Carolina, the only school to have won a national championship while going unbeaten and untied, which it accomplished in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 2003, denied Stanford the opportunity of joining that elite club as the Cardinal saw its season end at 25-1. Ironically, a year ago in the national championship game, the Tar Heels did the exact same thing, beating an unbeaten and untied top-rated Notre Dame team 2-1 in the national title game in Cary, N.C.

The NCAA title was the third for a nine-member group of UNC seniors who were also on title teams in 2006 and 2008. The nine-member UNC senior class includes Ashley Moore, Tobin Heath, Ashlyn Harris, Sterling Smith, Nikki Washington, Caroline Boneparth, Whitney Engen, Casey Nogueira and Kristi Eveland.

All nine were in uniform Sunday for the championship game with the exception of Washington, who has been out of the lineup since September 18 when she tore her right ACL against LSU. Heath, Harris, Engen, Nogueira and Eveland were all in the starting lineup Sunday while Smith came off the bench on the forward line.

It was also the third title for UNC redshirt junior midfielder Ali Hawkins who missed the 2007 campaign with an ACL tear and will return in 2010 to make a run at a fourth NCAA title.

Nogueira, who assisted on McDonald's game-winning goal, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player on Offense. She scored the game-winning goal in UNC's 1-0 NCAA semifinal win over Notre Dame Friday night. In six College Cup games in her career, all wins, Nogueira scored the game-winning goal four times and had the game-winning assist on another occasion. The only College Cup game in which she did not have a point was a 1-0 win over UCLA in the 2008 semifinals.

Senior Whitney Engen was named the Most Outstanding Player on Defense as the Tar Heels posted back-to-back shutouts over the nation's No. 5-ranked and No. 1-ranked squads. Other Tar Heels on the Women's College Cup All-Tournament Team were senior midfielder Tobin Heath, junior forward Jessica McDonald, junior defender Rachel Givan and senior goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

Ironically, in a game that by rule had to go the full 90 minutes, the only goal of the match came less than three minutes into play and came on the first shot taken in the game by either side in a match that ended up with 28 combined shots being launched by the two teams. It was Tobin Heath, the senior midfielder from Basking Ridge, N.J., who jump started the game-winning sequence, earning the second assist on the game-winning goal for the second time in the College Cup weekend. Heath fed Nogueira on the left side of the pitch, allowing Nogueira to go 1v1 with her defender right on top of the large North Carolina logo painted on the left side of the field.

Meanwhile, Jessica McDonald split her defenders on a run into the center of the box and Nogueira's service found McDonald's right foot directly in stride and the junior from Glendale, Ariz., one-timed the ball into the left side of the frame from just inside the six-yard box.

While both teams mounted serious attacks from that point on, no one would scratch again as the game ended 1-0. UNC became the only team to shut out Stanford all year and in the process posted the squad's 19th clean sheet of the campaign in 26 matches. The UNC defense of senior goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, senior defenders Whitney Engen and Kristi Eveland and junior defender Rachel Givan, allowed only 12 goals all season, the fewest allowed by a UNC side since the 2003 team gave up 11 while going 27-0-0 and becoming the last team to win an NCAA title unbeaten and untied.

Exactly two minutes after the Tar Heels scored, Courtney Jones had an excellent chance to double the lead but her strike went just wide to the right of the frame from the top of the 18. Carolina would hold the high-powered Stanford attack without a shot for the first 17:15 of the match before Teresa Noyola's shot went high. The Tar Heels ended the first half with a 10-2 edge in shots and a 7-0 edge in corner kicks but they were unable to extend their lead in the match.

Jessica McDonald and Amber Brooks both had a pair of headers go wide off corner kicks or direct kicks in the first 45 minutes and Nogueira missed wide on another try. Stanford, meanwhile, was struggling to stay onside and it burned the Cardinal when what initially looked like a goal by Courtney Verloo was called back with about six minutes left in the opening frame. At the 42:29 mark, Verloo had a shot which forced Harris to make her first save of the game and was only the second shot of the half for the Cardinal. UNC ended the half with a brilliant chance to make it 2-0 but a header by Ali Hawkins off a corner kick by Rachel Givan was knocked away at the last second by Stanford goalkeeper Kira Maker in the 44th minute of the match.

The intensity in the second half picked up right from the opening whistle as both teams pressed the other squad's defense to either get the equalizer or provide separation. UNC would end the second period with a 9-7 edge in shots and a 4-3 margin in corner kicks.

Stanford's first-team All-America forward Kelley O'Hara had a great chance inside the 18-yard box at the 52:59 juncture but the effort went off frame. Stanford continued to press the issue and on a fast break by the Cardinal, UNC's Meghan Klingenberg was slapped with a yellow card just outside the penalty area on the right side at 55:47 of the match. Stanford's ensuing free kick was punched out by Harris before being cleared out of danger by UNC midfielder Lucy Bronze and she sent the ball downfield with a booming kick off her left foot.

With 32:09 to play in the match, Christen Press of the Cardinal had an open shot from 25 yards out but it sailed high. UNC began to counterattack and Nogueira was high with a shot at 62:42 of the match and then Maker made back-to-back saves on strikes by Nogueira at 65:42 and 67:09, respectively. UNC reached the second half TV timeout with a 15-6 edge overall in shots and an 8-1 advantage in corner kicks.

A key play in the game came at the 68:40 mark when O'Hara, a top candidate for National Player of the Year honors, was issued a yellow card after taking down UNC's Kristi Eveland. Earlier in the half O'Hara had fouled McDonald on the sidelines. The effect of that foul eventually forced McDonald from the game and limited her playing time in the second half.

Less than four minutes after the foul on Eveland, O'Hara merited her second yellow of the game, earning her an automatic red card and banishment from the pitch. On the second foul, she took down UNC defender Whitney Engen from behind after Engen had successfully tackled the ball away from the Stanford attacking trio. The red card came at 72:15 and meant the Cardinal played a man down for the final 17:45 of the match.

The red card, if anything, seemed to inspire the Cardinal. Just over a minute later, Ashlyn Harris had to make her most difficult save of the game on a long, hard, line drive shot by Christen Press from about 25 yards out front. Harris was able to knock the ball to the ground and then gobble it up before any Stanford player could get to the rebound.

UNC had two excellent chances to extend the lead but Tobin Heath had her shot turned away by Kira Maker at 75:46 and just 27 seconds after that Nogueira fed McDonald for a one-on-one with the Stanford goalkeeper but McDonald pushed her shot just to the right of the frame from about 15 yards out.

The Cardinal had two dangerous corner kicks in the final four minutes of play. On both occasions, Tar Heels cleared the other out of harm's way, the second time at the 89:16 mark. With 1:39 left Christen Press made a run past the UNC defense and punched the ball into the goal off the left post. But Press had mistimed her run and was beyond all three Tar Heels on the back line when the ball was served to her from the midfield. The play resulted in Stanford's sixth and final offside call of the day in the 89th minute.

1. Lauren Fowlkes, Notre Dame, D/M
2. Lauren Cheney, UCLA, F
3. Sydney Leroux, UCLA, F
4. Kelley O'Hara, Stanford, F
5. Christen Press, Stanford, F
6. Tobin Heath, North Carolina, MF
7. Jessica McDonald, North Carolina, F
8. Rachel Givan, North Carolina, D
9. Ashlyn Harris, North Carolina, GK

Most Outstanding Player on DEFENSE
Whitney Engen, North Carolina, D

Most Outstanding Player on OFFENSE
Casey Nogueira, North Carolina, F