If there's one thing you need to know about the North Carolina
women's soccer team, know this: It operates under nothing so
constraining as a schedule. Soon after the Tar Heels woke up on
Sunday morning, they found a piece of paper taped to their
hotel-room doors that read SUNDAY RHYTHM. What followed--from
the 9 a.m. breakfast to the 11:15 pregame meeting to the 1:10
p.m. kickoff of the national championship game--looked
suspiciously like a schedule. The difference? Schedules are a
human invention. Rhythms are born of nature. Therein lies the
best way to describe the most successful dynasty in college
sports: North Carolina's domination of the NCAA tournament has
become, like falling temperatures in December, part of the
unalterable rhythm of the seasons.
Of course it's more complicated than that, as Tar Heels coach
and mad-scientist motivator Anson Dorrance, now in his 19th
season, will gladly tell you. Before they took the field on
Sunday in search of their 14th NCAA title in 16 years, the North
Carolina players endured a battery of tete-a-tetes with Dorrance
in Suite 1769 of the Holiday Inn Four Seasons. Last Thursday and
Friday he held an individual conference with each Tar Heel. Then
on Sunday he convened a meeting of defenders. A meeting of
midfielders. A meeting of forwards. And, finally, a meeting of
the whole team. "We joke about how he'll probably set up
meetings for blonde players and meetings for dark-haired
players," said midfielder Laurie Schwoy.
According to Dorrance, the U.S. women's national team coach from
1985 to '94, motivating women is different from motivating men.
At the end of Sunday's team meeting he asked the seniors to
leave the room. Dorrance then read the others deeply personal
letters he had received from Aubrey Falk, Nel Fettig and Meg
Uritis, each of whom would be playing her last game for North
Carolina. "You would think they were playing for a national
championship, but they aren't," he explained later. "Every one
of those girls is playing for the people around her."
The scene at UNCG Soccer Stadium on the campus of North
Carolina-Greensboro resembled a Lilith Fair for the sporting
set. Hundreds of stocking-capped girls--and even a few
bundled-up boys--braved the 38[degree] temperature and practiced
on makeshift goals outside the stadium. "I want my kids to see
that women can have a high caliber of play too," said Paula
Skaar of Roanoke, Va., who brought along her three daughters.
Playing against Connecticut before a crowd of 9,460, an NCAA
women's soccer tournament record, the Tar Heels didn't
disappoint their fans, male or female. Cindy Parlow volleyed in
the first goal midway through the first half, and Robin Confer
sealed the 2-0 win with a long blast in the waning moments.
Afterward Dorrance was asked to explain North Carolina's 45-game
unbeaten streak and its ability to outdo the 228 other Division
I soccer programs one more time. "Recruiting," he said.
"Bringing in these young women is the reason we're successful
year in, year out." Then he narrowed his eyes and put a
Nicholson edginess in his voice. "Tonight I'll be eating with a
young recruit, and I'm going to try to close her down this
evening. She's going to come to paradise, and we're going to
invite her to be a part of that next fall."
He spoke the words with enough schmaltzy bravado to make you
think the dynasty might not ever die, that Dean Smith was
dead-on when he called North Carolina, above all, "a women's
COLOR PHOTO: BOB DONNAN Tar Heels like forward Meredith Florance are perennially a step ahead of the opposition. [Meredith Florance and opposing player in game]