This weekend saw the end of the season for both the men’s and women’s UNC Soccer teams. For one program, it was the storybook ending that we all dreamed of, but few thought possible. For the other it was a disappointing result that reminded us of the lost potential of the season. The women’s team won the NCAA Tournament, their 22nd championship overall. The men were knocked out of their respective competition.
It would have seemed in August that the men’s and women’s programs would be in the opposite places. The UNC women have been eliminated from the NCAAs in the third round in the last 2 years and they started the season 5-3-2 from the first ten games. The men started 8-1-1, being ranked #1 or #2 for all of that time. They are the reigning national champions. (At least for the next week)
But here’s where the storylines diverge. The women went 10-0-1 after that point en route to the title, whereas the men incurred marquis losses to Maryland, conceding the ACC title as well as suffering surprise elimination from the NCAAs at the hands of Indiana. The women’s team’s performance was termed a “miracle of chemistry” by Coach Anson Dorrance. The women scored 19 goals over 6 matches, only keeping a clean sheet in two games. The men did just the opposite, bossing games in the NCAAs but failing to score in two games, resulting in their eventual defeat.
For the women, this was business as usual. They have 21 previous national championships, and were considered to be in a drought for having not made the NCAA final for two consecutive seasons. The men have only two previous crowns. The women showed their blue chip reputation by coming together and overperforming, while the men clearly demonstrated that they’re not quite used to being the big power, missing easy chances and eventually conceding a howler to foment their elimination.
But perhaps we’ll be seeing a tonal shift in the Men’s program. Regardless of the unfulfilled potential of the season, we must remember that the Men’s team lost a number of key players yet still emerged as one of the favorites for a national title. Instead of slowly rebuilding the team after a championship, the men added key freshmen to the roster and launched another successful season. Jonathan Campbell stepped right into the center- back slot for Matt Hedges, the midfield was completed by youngsters Alex Olofson and Raby George, and number 10 Danny Garcia dropped 4 goals and 6 assists to replace Enzo Martinez. The Men’s defense was ridiculous, conceding seven goals all season, with Maryland taking credit for 3 of them. Had they not conceded a howler in the last game, it was entirely plausible to see them go all the way without giving a goal. The attack was not quite as brilliant, but the addition of Rob Lovejoy to the team to complement Garcia added a new dimension to the forward play.
As Tar Heel fans, however, we have tremendous reason for pride. The women’s grit and the men’s continuance of prominence show us what we might have to look forward to in years to come. Both genders should continue to pull in top players, and the women will look to add number 23 next year while the men should expect only to be propelled farther into the elite next year. Both teams should be right back in the mix, and if Tar Heel recruiting and coaching continues as it has, we may look forward to two powerhouses in the same sport. We’re likely past the days of 3 and 4 straight national titles, but both genders should find themselves front and center on the national stage for a long time.