The University of North Carolina women's soccer team found itself in unfamiliar territory going into the game last Sunday against Brown -- it had a one-game losing streak.
The Tar Heels' 103-game undefeated streak (97-0-6), the longest in collegiate soccer history, had ended in a 3-2 double overtime loss to Connecticut the previous day. Despite losing for the first time since a 1985 national-title defeat by George Mason, the Tar Heels rebounded against Brown with a 3-0 victory.
"The streak didn't bother us," Coach Anson Dorrance said. "We want to win regardless, we don't win because the streak's on the line."
Winning is the norm for North Carolina, which has captured eight of the last nine national titles since 1981. In 11 years on the varsity level, the Tar Heels have posted a 218-8-8 record under Dorrance. They are undefeated at home (100-0-2) and in the ACC (47-0-2).
Then there is the streak. The Tar Heels trailed on the scoreboard only four times for 19 minutes 45 seconds during the 9,270 minutes of the streak -- a stretch perpetuated in part by Washington area talent, past and present.
"It's been the recruiting spine of my team," Dorrance said of the Washington area. In particular, Northern Virginia provided Dorrance with eight all-Americans and two current starters.
Of North Carolina's 18 first-team all-American selections, six are from Northern Virginia high schools: Nancy Clary ('80) of Jeb Stuart; Stephanie Zeh ('81, '82) of Oakton; Suzy Cobb ('83, '84) of Langley; and Marcia McDermott ('86) of McLean. Second-team selections include Wendy Gabauer ('87, '88) of South Lakes and Birthe Hegstad ('88) of Langley.
For the past two seasons, Dorrance has relied on the goal scoring of sophomore forward Mia Hamm of Lake Braddock. Hamm led North Carolina with 21 goals and was voted most valuable player of the ACC tournament last season as a freshman.
"She has among the best acceleration of any player that plays this game right now in the world," said Dorrance, who coached Hamm on the U.S. women's national team. "She is very difficult to mark. Once she gets shoulder to shoulder with you, unless you pull her jersey or foul her, she's going to go by you."
With 17 underclassmen on his roster this season, Dorrance needs Hamm to assume senior-like leadership as a sophomore. Thus far, Hamm leads by example with a team-high 14 goals, two of them in the losing effort against Connecticut.
"I think I have a different role than I did last year. I'm one of the more experienced players on the field now, just because our team is so young and inexperienced," Hamm said. "I think that's one of the things I've had to adapt to, but there's no pressure. There's no pressure from Anson, he just tells me that my role's different and I understand that."
Junior Emily Rice, Hamm's teammate at Lake Braddock, also has a different role this season because she switched from defense to midfield.
"The demands that we have on her right now are very high," Dorrance said of Rice. "She's probably playing the most difficult position to play in my system, and as a result there are incredible demands made on her. How she responds to these demands will dictate the kind of season all of us are having."
One of seven upperclassmen, Rice said there were benefits from ending the streak against Connecticut. "Connecticut's a good team and they beat us. We should have some things to sort out, yes, but it can only help," she said. "Fortunately, it did happen close to the beginning of the season, so we can correct what we need early rather than sorting it our later."
Despite losing to Connecticut, the Tar Heels have a 10-1 record after beating George Mason Sunday, and have outscored their opponents, 47-5. Although inexperienced, the Tar Heels have three potential all-Americans in Hamm, forward Kristine Lilly and sweeper Linda Hamilton.
"We don't dominate to the extent that we used to," Dorrance said. "The only thing we have, though, is consistent superstars that are going to make us competitive in every game we play in."
Against Brown, freshman Jill Jakowich emerged as the superstar, scoring three goals and giving Dorrance hope for postseason success with his young team. "The most important thing about the Brown game is that Jill Jakowich got a hat trick," said Dorrance, whose roster includes freshmen Carolyn Springer of Silver Spring and Jill Zaccagnini of Upper Marlboro. "We need her contributing if we're going to be a good team down the road." Virginia Women No. 1
With perennial champion North Carolina "down" at 9-1, the 11-0 Virginia women's soccer team received its first No. 1 ranking by the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America -- shared with Santa Clara (10-0). Virginia faces Villanova in the WAGS tournament Saturday at Fort Belvoir.