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3. FOCUS: North Carolina's fab freshmen
October 18th, 2006 4:54AM

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Anson Dorrance is regularly starting six freshmen, the most since the early days of the North Carolina program, but that hasn't stopped the No. 2 Tar Heels from running off 16 straight wins.

UNC was hit hurt by graduation, losing three national team players Lindsay Tarpley, Lori Chalupny and Kacey White, but Dorrance's freshmen pushed their way into the lineup. Three returning starters are now coming off the bench.

Here's a look at Carolina's fab freshmen:

WHITNEY ENGEN. Recruited as a midfielder but starts in the attack. Credits the welcoming attitude of UNC's upperclassmen for the fast start by the freshmen. Grew up in Southern California, where she played for Slammers FC.

KRISTI EVELAND. Not expected to start as a freshman, but quickly won starting job in UNC's three-player backline. Leads all UNC field players in minutes played. Dorrance loves her height and speed -- she was an outstanding basketball player -- as well as her tackling ability. Started her youth career at famous Dallas girls club Sting but moved to the Texans Red North in 2005.

ALI HAWKINS. Also starts in the back with Eveland and junior Jessica Maxwell. Played central midfield for the San Diego Surf but converted to defender in part because of her ability in the air.

TOBIN HEATH. Missed start of season to play with USA at the Under-20 Women's World Championship in Russia. The New Jersey product is one of the most skillful players to join Carolina in recent years. Her soccer heroes are Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, and her biggest soccer thrill was playing in Brazil -- twice.

STERLING SMITH. The local girl from Chapel Hill was injured last year and red-shirted. She wasn't given much of a chance of starting this season, but she won the coaching staff over with a great spring. Smith scored in her home debut and has started every game up front.

NIKKI WASHINGTON. While Heath beats defenders with her touch down the left side, Washington is counted upon to torch defenders with her speed down the right wing. Switched high schools last year so she could graduate a year early to join the Tar Heels. One of the best players to come out of the Texans program in recent years.

(U.S. U-20 Casey Nogueira, the youngest freshman of the bunch, has been used exclusively off the bench, averaging about 30 minutes a game since returning from Russia.)


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