Elis take on nation’s best

The University of North Carolina women’s soccer team is not a dynasty. It’s the dynasty.

“UNC is unquestionably one of the top teams every year and the success of winning so many NCAA championships has made them one of the most renowned sports programs in the country, men’s or women’s,” midfielder Lindsey Weening ’06 said. “This is a team that little girls want to play for, who we wanted to play for when we were younger.”

The Elis will face-off against the Tar Heels — currently No. 2 in the country ­– Sunday in their second stop during a weekend in North Carolina. Duke, ranked 12th, will be their first opponent of the year in a match this evening.

The Tar Heels have dominated NCAA women’s soccer tournament play since its inception, winning 18 of 24 crowns. The only other repeat champion is Notre Dame, with two titles. Last year’s squad went 18-0-2 to finish the regular season as the nation’s only undefeated team. Its 1-0 overtime loss to the University of Santa Clara in the third round of last year’s NCAA tournament was the first Tar Heel loss since December 2002.

The most daunting set of players on the team is the UNC front line. Forward Lindsay Tarpley won several national player of the year awards in 2003, and fellow attacker Heather O’Reilly was the consensus national rookie of the year two years ago and a finalist for three separate national player of the year awards last year.

Both players helped the United States win gold in the 2004 Olympics, and are two of the three Tar Heels who are on the 25-woman watch list for the 2005 M.A.C. Hermann Trophy, the top individual honor in women’s college soccer.

The UNC forwards provide a challenge, to say the least, to Susan Starr ’08 and Chloe Beizer ’07, Yale’s two contenders to replace former team MVP Sarah Walker ’05 in goal. Starr, however, does not seem fazed.

“They’ll probably have some good shots, and that makes for some good saves,” Starr said.

On Sunday, the Bulldogs will face off against the Tar Heels on UNC’s home turf. Yale head coach Rudy Meredith said the Tar Heels play the top two teams in New England every few years, and that in the past those teams have been a combination of the University of Connecticut, the University of Hartford and Boston College.

But with BC joining the Tar Heels in the ACC and Yale eclipsing Hartford as a power in the northeast, it will be Yale and UConn heading down to Chapel Hill this weekend. Next year, UNC will come up to Connecticut.

Several Bulldogs said they are honored to be playing UNC and looking forward to using the experience to improve.

“These games will only make us better,” Weening said. “We are going out there to win, and that is our mindset, but regardless of what happens, we want to come back with the experience and the respect of being able to play with one of the best teams in the country.”

The Tar Heels have wasted no time thus far showing that they want their top spot back. Last Friday, UNC beat up on No. 11 Tennessee, 7-1. The Lady Vols’ only goal came at the 79:05 mark — against UNC’s backup goalie.

Meredith said he was not nervous about his team opening its season with a big loss to UNC, because the Tar Heels can dominate any team in the country.

“They beat top-ranked teams in the country,” Meredith said. “They usually go through the season undefeated. It’s not something to be ashamed of if you lose to UNC. They beat everyone else too.”

Meredith would not comment on whether his team could win Sunday, but several of his players said the Bulldogs are capable of an upset.

“I can’t imagine ever stepping onto the field thinking we were going to lose,” defender April Siuda ’06 said. “Of course I think we can win.”

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