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2. WOMEN: O'Reilly leads UNC to 18th title
December 3rd, 2006 11:27PM



U.S. international Heather O'Reilly went out as she began her college career with a national championship, leading North Carolina to its 18th NCAA women's championship Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 victory over top-ranked and previously unbeaten Notre Dame at SAS Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
The Tar Heels finished a magical season with 27 successive wins after a season-opening loss on overtime at Texas A&M, tying the school record for victories in a season. They dominated possession, holding a 20-9 edge in shots against Notre Dame, and took a 2-0 lead before high-flying Irish attack could score late in the game. UNC had to be rebuilt after losing U.S. national team starters Lindsay Tarpley and Lori Chalupny, among others, to graduation. UNC coach Anson Dorrance fielded the most first-year players in UNC history when he started seven freshmen in the second half of the final.

O'Reilly and freshman Casey Nogueira both repeated their semifinal performances with goals to lead UNC past Notre Dame for the fourth time in an NCAA championship game.

O'Reilly, Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Tournament, put the Tar Heels on the board in the 18th minute with her 12th of the season and 59th of her career, drawing Irish goalkeeper Lauren Karas out of the goal, dribbling around her and then lofting a shot to the far post over three Notre Dame defenders from 15 yards out. The goal was the 15th NCAA Tournament goal for O'Reilly, tying Mia Hamm for second place in Carolina history. Only Christine Sinclair of Portland (25 goals) and Lindsay Tarpley of UNC (16 goals) have now scored more NCAA Tournament goals than O'Reilly.

Nogueira, making her first collegiate start, scored the second goal shortly after halftime on a header off a cross from Whitney Engen. Brittany Bock score the lone Notre Dame goal in the 81st minute. For the second straight game, Notre Dame stars Kerri Hanks and Michele Weissenhofer, 1-2 in the nation in scoring, were held without a goal.

"I think this team -- from the beginning we knew it was special," O'Reilly said of the young Tar Heels. "Everybody got a long so well, and everybody worked so hard for each other. I wouldn't rather win with another group of girls."

O'Reilly helped UNC win a national title as a freshman -- after returning from a broken leg that kept her out of the 2003 Women's World Cup -- but UNC failed to reach the final four in 2004 and 2005 for the first two times in its history.

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