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 t�te-�-t�tes 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� 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 the, that Dean Smith was dead-on when he called North Carolina, above all, "a women's soccer school."