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Anson Dorrance enters his 43rd year of service to the University of North Carolina soccer programs in the fall of 2019. Dorrance, a distinguished 1974 Tar Heel alumnus, debuted as the Carolina men’s soccer coach in September of 1977 and then added duties as head coach and founder of the UNC women’s program in September of 1979.
A former U.S. Women’s National Team head coach and current University of North Carolina head women’s soccer coach.
Like fine wine — with age — the coaching career of Anson Dorrance only gets better. There was significant evidence of that in the past calendar year. Dorrance led his 2018 UNC team to its most wins in nine years, its first ACC regular-season championship in eight years, its first undefeated ACC regular season in 12 years and runner-up finishes in the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
Four Tar Heel alumnae won an NWSL title in 2018 with the North Carolina Courage. Seven former Tar Heel players were on rosters for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, including five on the winning American side. England’s Lucy Bronze won the Silver Ball as the World Cup’s second most outstanding player and Tar Heel alumna Sarina Wiegman coached the Dutch side to the World Cup final.
Dorrance earned his 1,000th win as a collegiate head coach (including 172 wins as UNC’s men’s head coach from 1977-88) when he won his 828th women’s game against Ohio State on August 18, 2018.
All this proves that the influence of the Tar Heel program on the collegiate and international levels is as vibrant now as at any time in the program’s 40-year history.
In 2012, Dorrance led the Tar Heels against one of the best College Cup fields in history as North Carolina won its 22nd overall national title and its 21st NCAA crown. When UNC won the NCAA crown in 2009, Dorrance became the first coach in NCAA history to win 20 championships coaching a single sport.
Head coach of the Carolina women’s soccer program since its inception in 1979, Dorrance has built and guided a program successful on multiple levels - on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. Under his direction, the Tar Heels have collected national and conference championships at a stupendous rate, compiled an overall record staggering in its numerical verity, established records likely never to be approached and procured the esteem befitting a true dynasty.
That Dorrance was one of only two coaches in the prestigious collection to coach an Olympic/non-revenue sport on the collegiate level speaks even louder about his recognized greatness.
More recently, Beckett Entertainment released a magazine in which it named the Top 30 Sports Dynasties of all-time. UNC’s women’s soccer program success from 1982-2000 was rated the sixth most successful sports dynasty of the 20th century. Of the Top 30 programs named in the study, only four were collegiate programs.
As Dorrance prepares to begin his 41st season as the head coach at Carolina in the fall of 2019, some folks must be wondering if there is anything left to be accomplished. Chances are excellent that Dorrance will find something. In fact, in December 2018, he signed a five-year contract with the University extending his coaching obligations through the end of the 2023 campaign when he will be still very spry 72 years old.
Dorrance's immense loyalty to Carolina was shown in 1994 when Dorrance decided not to continue his duties as the head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team, the choice perplexed many.
Some thought he relinquished the honor in order to avoid the pressure that comes with being the leader of what was then the defending World Cup championship squad. But Dorrance’s decision had everything to do with allegiance to his alma mater.
The glory that came with coaching the U.S. to the championship in the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1991 was not enough to pull Dorrance away from his true professional love – working full-time with the Tar Heels. He wanted to increase the level of excellence that soccer fans had come to expect from the record-shattering program he had molded from scratch. To do that Dorrance knew he would have to dedicate all of his coaching energy to the University. With more elite-level players emerging from high school and club teams than ever before, the playing field in the college game was leveling out; Dorrance knew that for UNC to remain at the top, he would have to throw himself into the process with renewed vigor.
“College programs like ours require a lot of work,” says Dorrance. “At that point in time we had been surviving by just doing the minimum amount of work. We certainly couldn’t continue to be successful by doing just the minimum. We needed the extra time to stay competitive in an increasingly tough college game.”
A prime example of what Dorrance meant about a leveling playing field is the fact UNC has captured only seven of the past 21 NCAA championships from 1998-2018 when compared to the era from 1981 through 1997 when Carolina dominated the competition, winning 15 of 17 collegiate titles.
It is difficult to comprehend Dorrance taking Carolina’s women’s program to any greater heights than what it has already achieved. Yet, for a program consumed with striving for excellence, a national championship every season remains the goal. It is this relentless attitude that has helped the Tar Heels win a mind-blowing 22 of the 38 national championships that have been decided in the history of collegiate women’s soccer. Only five other schools in the country have won as many as two titles.
Carolina has also captured 21 of the 31 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championships since the sport was given title status by the league in 1988. Carolina’s all-time record in ACC Tournament play is 66-6-5 and the first loss in the event did not come until 2011. UNC also won the initial 1987 ACC title when it was held in a round-robin format at the end of the regular season to determine the champion. All told, the Tar Heels are 847-74-40 in the 40-year history of the program, a winning percentage of .902. Carolina’s performance has been so consistent that the program has ended with a cumulative winning percentage above 90 percent every year since 1983.
When Carolina decided to make women’s soccer a varsity sport in 1979, Dorrance became a two-sport head coach as he was already in his third year coaching the men’s team at Carolina. Dorrance’s brilliance at coaching women manifested itself almost immediately as it took just three years before the Tar Heels won a national championship, capturing the 1981 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) national title. Beginning with that championship, the Tar Heels have won 57.9 percent of the titles ever decided in the sport.
Carolina went on to claim three national titles in a row after the NCAA began sponsorship of the sport in the fall of 1982. The Tar Heels made it to the NCAA title game in 1985 but lost to George Mason 2-0 on the Patriots’ home field – the first of only 14 losses in NCAA Tournament play for Carolina to go along with 131 wins and four ties. That loss to George Mason, remarkably, was the last time the Tar Heels lost any game in the decade of the 1980s. Beginning with the season opener in 1986 and continuing midway into the 1990 season, Dorrance’s Tar Heels won 97 games and tied six matches over a stretch of 103 contests. In 1986, Carolina defeated Colorado College 2-0 in the finals at Fairfax, Va. A year later, the Tar Heels downed Massachusetts 1-0 on the Minutewomen’s home field in the title game. The 1988 campaign saw the Tar Heels defeat NC State 4-1 in the title game in Chapel Hill. A year later, Carolina defeated Colorado College 2-0 in the championship contest at Raleigh, N.C.
During this era, the ACC also began championship competition with UNC winning the inaugural title in 1987 in a round-robin format. NC State claimed the 1988 title on a penalty kick shootout against the Tar Heels but Carolina regained the title in 1989 and has won all but nine conference tournament championships since then.
Connecticut snapped a 103-match UNC unbeaten streak that had started in 1986 by defeating the Tar Heels 3-2 in overtime at Storrs, Conn. on September 22, 1990. The Tar Heels rebounded from that lone defeat to win their fifth straight NCAA crown in 1990, avenging the only blemish on their season by beating the Huskies in the final game 6-0 in Chapel Hill.
Along the way, Dorrance’s love of a challenge prompted him to take the coaching job for the U.S. Women’s National Team just a year into its existence in 1986. In a short time, Dorrance took the National Team to the vertex of the world’s most popular sport. On November 30, 1991, Dorrance led the U.S. to a 2-1 win over Norway to claim the initial World Cup championship.
Dorrance was the architect of the World Cup triumph, a win tinged with a Carolina Blue hue. Not only was Dorrance coaching the U.S. team, but nine of the 18 players competed collegiately at North Carolina and his assistant coach was former UNC player Lauren Gregg.
The next year, Dorrance assembled what many soccer observers have labeled the best college soccer team in history. That edition of the Tar Heels finished the season undefeated (25-0), claimed the ACC championship for the fourth straight year and won the NCAA title for the seventh consecutive time. Carolina’s 9-1 NCAA championship game victory over Duke was as thorough as the final score would lead one to believe and was a nonpareil way for the Heels to finish the year.
In 1993, UNC won the NCAA championship with an unsullied record of 23-0. The Tar Heels whitewashed George Mason 6-0 before what was then a collegiate women’s soccer record crowd of 5,721 fans at Fetzer Field. Mia Hamm capped her brilliant career at Carolina that day and went on to win unanimous national player of the year honors for the second year in a row.
Amongst all the coaching jobs that Dorrance has done during his career, the one that culminated in the 1994 NCAA championship may be the most impressive. Dorrance was able to rally the Tar Heels after arch-rival Duke ended a 101-game unbeaten streak by beating Carolina 3-2 on October 19, 1994. The loss came 17 days after Notre Dame had snapped a 92-game Carolina winning streak by playing the Heels to a scoreless tie.
UNC ran the table after the loss to Duke and NCAA Tournament wins over NC State, Duke, Connecticut and Notre Dame added a 13th national title to Dorrance’s coaching resume. Tar Heel midfielder Tisha Venturini was selected as the 1994 National Player of the Year, marking the seventh straight season in which the national player of the year came from the ranks of Carolina players.
The 1994 season presaged a sea change in the college game. With the proliferation of available talent and the vast increase in the number of college programs, parity was quickly becoming a part of the women’s game. While the Tar Heels still led the way in terms of consistent excellence, one of the big news stories of 1995 was the fact Carolina failed to win the national title in women’s soccer for the first time in 10 years. The Tar Heels, seeded No. 1 in the NCAA bracket with a 25-0 mark, were upset by Notre Dame 1-0 in the 1995 NCAA semifinals.
Relinquishing the title to Notre Dame in 1995 only fueled the team’s competitive fire the next season. Dorrance took a team that returned nine starters and molded it into another victorious unit by season’s end. UNC proved it was still at the acme of women’s college soccer, beating defending champion Notre Dame 1-0 in overtime to claim the 1996 crown.
After seeing the 1998 NCAA title elude the Tar Heels, Carolina fans were able to find solace in the performance of the U.S. team which competed in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The 20-person roster featured eight Tar Heel players — Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Carla Werden, Cindy Parlow, Tisha Venturini, Tracy Noonan, Lorrie Fair and Tiffany Roberts — and UNC alumna Lauren Gregg as a U.S. assistant coach. The Tar Heel-laden composition of the World Cup Team, which reclaimed the championship it had relinquished in 1995, once again stood as a testament to the indelible contributions Dorrance has made to U.S. soccer.
Basking in the glow of a World Cup title featuring so many ties to the program, Carolina’s collegiate dominance seemed to be in doubt when just eight games into the 1999 season the Tar Heels sported a 6-2 record. The two losses were the most in a season since 1985. But Dorrance led Carolina to 18 wins in a row and another NCAA championship. Lorrie Fair earned national player of the year accolades, but in many regards, the 1999 team was a squad without star presence, just incredible unity of purpose.
A year later, the 2000 Carolina team suffered the program’s most losses in a season in 20 years but again won ACC and NCAA titles. Three times in six NCAA Tournament games, Carolina trailed its opponent 1-0 midway through the second half. All three times, the Tar Heels came from behind to win 2-1 in regulation time en route to another national title.
After a two-year hiatus from the awards stand, UNC reclaimed the NCAA title in 2003 with its most dominant team in a decade. Carolina became the first team since the Tar Heels of 1993 to go undefeated and untied, finishing with a perfect 27-0 mark while winning its 15th straight ACC title and its 18th national championship. Led by co-national players of the year Lindsay Tarpley and Catherine Reddick, Carolina outscored its opponents 132-11, including an amazing 32-0 margin in six NCAA Tournament matches.
In 2006, Dorrance turned in one of the best coaching jobs of his career in piloting UNC to its 19th national championship. He was the unanimous choice as the national coach of the year after leading Carolina to a 27-1 balance sheet. The Tar Heels accomplished these heroics while starting six freshmen for most of the season.
In 2008, UNC captured its 20th national championship with a team that started 4-1-1 but went 21-0-1 in its final 22 matches. Led by national player of the year Casey Nogueira, who led the nation in scoring with 25 goals, Carolina defeated two unbeaten teams in the College Cup, downing UCLA 1-0 and Notre Dame 2-1, to win the NCAA title. Nogueira scored two second-half goals to rally UNC past the Fighting Irish in the final game.
A year later, the Tar Heels turned in one of the best defensive efforts in school history en route to a 21st national crown. Senior defender Whitney Engen was a National Player of the Year honoree and the defensive MVP of the ACC and she led a team that allowed only 12 goals and posted 19 shutouts. Carolina allowed only two goals in the final 11 games of the season as the Tar Heels won the ACC Tournament hardware over Florida State 3-0 and the NCAA Tournament title over Stanford 1-0. Carolina won the most unlikely of its 22 national crowns in 2012 after finishing the regular season with a mundane 10-5-2 ledger. But the Heels caught fire in the post-season, winning three overtime games and downing regional No. 1 seeds in each of the last three rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Crystal Dunn was the consensus National Player of the Year and the winner of the ACC’s Top Female athlete accolade for 2012-13 while Amber Brooks took home player of the season accolades from Top Drawer Soccer.
Ironically, Dorrance’s career plans did not originally include coaching a women’s team. He began his coaching career at Carolina as the designated head coach for the men’s team in 1976 during Marvin Allen’s last year as head coach. He took over as men’s coach the following year and served for 12 years in that role, posting a 172-65-21 record. His team won the ACC Tournament championship in 1987. He took the Tar Heels to the 1987 NCAA College Cup semifinals and the second round of the 1988 NCAA Tournament. Dorrance’s .708 winning percentage is second amongst Carolina’s men’s soccer coaches all-time and his 172 wins rank third in school history.
Since being named the women’s head coach in 1979, Carolina has an 847-74-40 record under Dorrance and only 13 times in 40 years have the Tar Heels lost more than two games in a single season. The Tar Heels’ 21 NCAA crowns are more than any other women’s NCAA Division I sports program in the history (Stanford women’s tennis is second with 20), and the 22 national championships overall are more than any single sports program in ACC history, men’s or women’s.
Over the years, 19 different Tar Heels have been named national players of the year under Dorrance’s direction — April Heinrichs in 1984 and 1986, Shannon Higgins in 1988 and 1989, Kristine Lilly in 1990 and 1991, Mia Hamm in 1992 and 1993, Tisha Venturini in 1994, Debbie Keller in 1995 and 1996, Staci Wilson in 1995, Cindy Parlow in 1996, 1997 and 1998, Robin Confer in 1997, Lorrie Fair in 1999, Meredith Florance in 2000, Lindsay Tarpley in 2003, Catherine Reddick in 2003, Heather O’Reilly in 2006, Yael Averbuch in 2006, Casey Nogueira in 2008, Whitney Engen in 2009 and Crystal Dunn and Amber Brooks in 2012.
In 1994, Dorrance added another cherished honor when the athletic department designated him a “Priceless Gem.” This honor is reserved only for those individuals who have contributed in extraordinary ways to the successful athletic climate at the University.
In 1995, Dorrance’s program was profiled in a full-length documentary film entitled, “Dynasty.” The movie focused in particular on the Tar Heels’ amazing nine-year national championship run from 1986 through 1994, and it included in-depth interviews with both current and former Tar Heel players. Another documentary about the UNC program, “Winning Isn’t Everything,” was released in DVD format following the 2007 season.
In the fall of 2003, Sports Illustrated On Campus magazine named UNC’s women’s soccer program as the greatest college dynasty of all-time.
Dorrance has also co-authored two books. He combined with Tim Nash to write “Training Soccer Champions” in 1996. It sold out in its first printing and did equally well in its second press run. Dorrance also co-authored the award-winning “The Vision of a Champion” with Gloria Averbuch. It was published in 2003 and almost immediately went to second and third printings. It was scheduled for republishing in 2018. In 2006, “The Man Watching” by former Sports Illustrated writer Tim Crothers debuted to smashing reviews and amazing sales success.
Following the U.S. victory in the Women’s World Cup in 1991, Dorrance received an Honorary All-America Award, one of the most prestigious of its kind, from the NSCAA.
In 1991, Soccer America named Dorrance one of the 20 most influential men in American soccer during the previous two decades. Soccer America followed that up in 1995 by naming Dorrance as one of the 25 most influential people in the history of American soccer. Dorrance was one of only three coaches on that list and the only women’s coach tapped.
A 1974 the University of North Carolina graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and philosophy, Dorrance originally enrolled at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, where he spent one semester studying and playing soccer. He then transferred to Carolina to play for Marvin Allen.
Dorrance’s natural gifts on the pitch led to his selection to the All-ACC Team three times as an undergraduate and he won All-South Region honors in 1973. He was named in 2002 as one of the Top 50 men’s soccer players in ACC history. He was also one of the top intramural sports performers on the Carolina campus during his days as an undergraduate.
He was a charter member of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Committee and he also served as the women’s chairman of the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America (now United Soccer Coaches). He is the former chairman of the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules Committee and one of the few coaches in the country to qualify as a national staff coach for the U.S. Soccer Federation and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. He formerly was involved in training coaches and awarding coaching licenses as part of the NSCAA Coaching Academy. In the summer of 2003, he was named to the Board of Directors of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Dorrance’s summer soccer camps for women are the most popular in the nation. The camps sell out well in advance. Dorrance has even hosted a version of the famous camp in England.
Dorrance’s soccer origins stem from his youth when he lived overseas. He resided in India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Singapore, Belgium, and Switzerland while growing up. His family moved all around the world following his father’s assignments as an international businessman. Additional members of the Dorrance extended family residing in Chapel Hill include his brother Pete, a co-owner of six prominent Triangle area restaurants, and Pete’s wife Dolly Hunter, a former UNC head field hockey and softball coach. Carolina’s biggest soccer fan, Anson Dorrance’s mother Peggy, passed away at the age of 87 in October 2014 and has been sorely missed at Carolina women’s soccer games since that time. There is no doubt that Peggy would have loved the beautiful new soccer stadium the Tar Heels are occupying in the fall of 2019 as Carolina’s program continues its pursuit of excellence in every aspect.