North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance sees more talent and parity than ever in college women's soccer.
Once again, the Tar Heels proved they're still ahead of the pack.
Jessica McDonald scored in the third minute and North Carolina secured its second straight and 21st overall national championship on Sunday with a 1-0 win over previously unbeaten Stanford in the final of the Women's College Cup.
The Tar Heels (23-3-1) have won six NCAA titles since 1999, three times as many as any other team overall.
North Carolina won 12 of the first 13 College Cups starting in 1982, when the NCAA tournament fields were smaller and few teams could even offer a challenge. The tournament begins with 64 teams now, and the top high-school players are recruited by dozens of established programs.
"In the old days, you'd play a game and then you'd be in the Final Four," said Dorrance, completing his 31st season. "Now, there are six games to win. Six games makes it a lot tougher, and the quality of the average team in the tournament is phenomenal."
But Dorrance's system works, no matter what players he plugs in or what team the Tar Heels face.
Stanford (25-1) and the second-highest scoring team in the nation mustered only nine shots against North Carolina's stifling defense. The Cardinal failed in their bid to join North Carolina as the only teams to finish a perfect season _ no losses or ties _ with a championship. The Tar Heels have done that four times (1991-93, 2003).
"We've tried to design a system that's difficult to play against," Dorrance said. "That system is predicated on work ethic and high pressure. It's hard for other teams to replicate that in practice. Often times, even when a quality team plays us for the first time, it's a bit of a shock."
Casey Nogueira, who assisted on the goal, was the tournament's most outstanding offensive player. She fed McDonald with a high, bending pass into the goal area, and McDonald rushed in to chip it past goalkeeper Kira Maker.
Nogueira scored in North Carolina's 1-0 win over Notre Dame in the semifinals.
North Carolina's defense did the rest, holding the Cardinal to a season-low two shots in the first half. North Carolina goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris made only two saves all day and the Tar Heels finished their 19th shutout in 27 games.
"North Carolina does a great job of pressuring and swarming the ball," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "It's easy to talk about as a coach, what you need to do. But it's difficult in there. It was hard for us to get into a rhythm and play our type of soccer."
Stanford had trailed in five games this season. But the comeback hopes in this one virtually ended when Kelley O'Hara, the nation's leading goal scorer, got her second yellow card with 17:45 left in the game.
That left short-handed Stanford's chances of a rally to second-leading scorer Christen Press, and she nearly tied it with a 20-yard shot that Harris punched away.
Press also broke through the defense in the 88th minute, firing a long shot past Harris for an apparent tying goal, but linesman Martik Mirikian called her offside.
Stanford was the 12th team to enter the College Cup with a perfect record. Last year, Notre Dame came in at 25-0 before losing 2-1 to North Carolina in the final.
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