[NORTH CAROLINA WOMEN] No other program could suffer the losses North Carolina had in the offseason and even think of challenging for the national title. But then Carolina is no ordinary program.
Carolina's losses were massive: Olympic gold-medalist Tobin Heath, Whitney Engen, Nikki Washington and Casey Nogueira went 1-4-5-8 in the WPS college draft, Jessica McDonald, Ashlyn Harris and Kristi Eveland were also taken in the first 36 picks, and freshman Lucy Bronze, a starter in midfield, returned home to England.
The seniors won three national championships in four years -- the last two with wins in the final against teams that were unbeaten and untied -- to give UNC 20 NCAA titles in 28 seasons.
The losses were similar to those after the 2005 season when the Tar Heels graduated Lindsay Tarpley and Lori Chalupny, both future Olympic champions, and Kacey White and Kendall Fletcher, who both start for Sky Blue FC, the reigning WPS champion.
Anson Dorrance says Carolina made a "strategic decision" and poured all its resources into the 2006 class led by Heath and it has tried to assemble a similar kind of recruiting class this year.
"Six freshmen have opportunities for starting roles," he says.
The freshman class is led by a pair of U.S. Under-20 World Cup players, Crystal Dunn and Meg Morris, both from the New York area and both versatile players who can play a variety of positions.
Anna Sieloff will get a shot in goal, Canadian Olivia MBala could start in the back and Kealia Ohai and Elizabeth Burchenal could play on the wings.
Like the Tar Heels did in 2006, they open at Texas A&M, where they lost their first opening game in 23 years, then rolled off 27 straight wins.
The Heels have experience down the middle with Rachel Givan at center back, Amber Brooks and Ali Hawkins in midfield and Courtney Jones (daughter of former NFL star Brent Jones) up front.
Hawkins was part of the 2006 freshman class but tore an ACL between her freshman and sophomore seasons.
She has a chance to become the first Tar Heel to win four national titles since the members of the 1994 senior class led by Tisha Venturini.
Is it possible?
"We could have a pretty competitive team," says Dorrance.
Texas A&M Tournament
Aug. 20 at Texas A&M 8:30 p.m. ET
Aug. 22 vs. Michigan State 11:30 a.m. ET
Carolina Nike Classic
Aug. 27 vs. Stanford 6:00 p.m. ET
Aug. 29 vs. Missouri 1:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 4 vs. Tennessee 1:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 10 at Cal Poly 10:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 12 at San Diego State 4:30 p.m. ET
Sept. 17 vs. Middle Tennessee State 3:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 19 vs. Florida 12:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 23 vs. Boston College 7:00 p.m. ET
Sept. 26 vs. Virginia Tech 1:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 1 at North Carolina State 7:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 8 at Virginia 7:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 14 vs. Florida State 7:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 17 vs. Miami 1:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 21 at Clemson 7:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 24 vs. Maryland 1:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 28 at Duke 7:00 p.m. ET
Oct. 31 at Wake Forest 5:00 p.m. ET
Nov. 3-7 ACC Tournament in Cary, N.C.