The North Carolina Tar Heels are to women’s soccer what the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell and Red Auerbach were to the NBA. They are, in other words, a dominant force.
They have won 19 NCAA championships since 1981, including last year’s. They are currently ranked No. 7 in the nation. And on a gusty Sunday afternoon, the upstart Miami Hurricanes knocked them off 1-0.
The game was physical from the beginning. Each period represented a game within itself. The first was a physical match of crawl-ball which took place under rainy skies after the game was delayed for an hour by lightning. The second was a fast paced series of attacks from both sides in the bright sunshine.
At the end, the ‘Canes celebrated as if they had just won their first national title.
“I think it just continues to help us with our confidence,” Head Coach Tricia Taliaferro said. “We always knew and we believed.
There were a few games where we came close and this just helps us get over that hurdle. It feels good working and working and working and finally being able to break through.”
It seemed as though the roles reversed on Sunday, if only for the afternoon. The Hurricanes, the pick amongst conference coaches to finish last in the ACC during the preseason, kept absorbing body blows from the Tar Heels.
“We are a very blue collar team,” said Taliaferro. “We play with a lot of heart and passion. We talked about being disciplined and our starting confidence as far as believing we can win this game. It was true grit.”
No one displayed this work ethic more than goalie Lauren McAdam, who saved six Tar Heel shots on goal in shutting out the champions. McAdam shone particularly brightly during a ten minute stretch in the second period. She made two spectacular saves, including a dive in the 59th minute which killed UNC’s best scoring opportunity.
Freshman Brittney Steinbruch broke away from the pack into UNC territory during the 67th minute. After being run down from behind by a defenseman, Steinbruch chipped the ball between the defensemen and goalie before knocking it in. The goal gave the Hurricanes the lead, and 23 minutes later the victory.
“It feels really good,” McAdam said. “I can’t even talk right now. We’re all really happy and we worked for it. I think we really deserve it.”
The Hurricanes served notice that they are not afraid of anyone, absorbing the best shots from a juggernaut and never breaking until they had earned the victory. It is the type of win that programs are built upon.
“I don’t know what others will say,” Taliaferro said. “As far as our own confidence it is a good foundation knowing that we can do it and that we actually did it. I think it’s great for the players to be able to experience it and do it against the national champions from last year.”
Dan Stein may be contacted at email@example.com.