Soccer America Top 5
RANK/TEAM (2008 RECORD)
1. North Carolina (25-1-2)
2. Stanford (22-2-1)
3. UCLA (22-1-2)
4. Portland (20-2-0)
5. Notre Dame (26-1-0)
Complete Top 25 rankings
Carolina is seeking its 20th NCAA title in 28 years, though the trophies haven't come as easily as they once did. The Heels won 16 of the first 19 championships but only three of the last nine.
The Heels sneaked up on the competition -- if that's possible -- in 2006 when they won with seven freshman starters and last year they had to knock off two unbeaten teams, UCLA and Notre Dame, at the College Cup.
UNC will not be sneaking up on anyone this season. The Tar Heels return nine starters, including 2008 Soccer America Player of the Year Casey Nogueira, from last year's College Cup championship team. They don't include two regular-season starters -- Nikki Washington and Meghan Klingenberg -- who missed the postseason because of their participation at the U-20 Women's World Cup.
The '09 Tar Heels have a chance to be one of the great Anson Dorrance teams of all-time. They will certainly get the opportunity to prove it. Their schedule includes five 2008 elite eight teams in the first two months of the season -- UCLA, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Duke and Florida State. They open Saturday at Fetzer Field against UCLA, which they beat in the '08 semifinals.
* Carolina leads a group of five ACC teams ranked in the top 14. The rest are Florida State (No. 7), Boston College (No. 8), Virginia (No. 11) and Duke (No. 14). Led by Stanford and UCLA at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, the Pac-10 also has five teams in the Top 25. Six other conferences represented are the Big East (4 teams), Big 12 (4), Big Ten (3), WCC (2), CAA (1) and SEC (1).
* The only team ranked in the Top 25 that did not make the 2008 NCAA Tournament is Connecticut, whose absence left North Carolina as the only team to have played in all 27 tournament. The Huskies welcome back nine starters plus Brittany Taylor, who was a medical redshirt last season but could be one of the top defenders in the 2010 WPS draft.
* Soccer America's Women's Preseason All-Americans will appear in Wednesday's Soccer America Daily.