Of the four women's Division I teams left standing, Stanford and UCLA have yet to claim an NCAA Division I title. The other two teams, North Carolina and Notre Dame, have captured a combined total
But on the scale of players lost to the U.S. team that has reached the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup final, Stanford ranks first, as in zero. The other three are missing at least one
of their most important players heading into the final four starting Friday in Cary, N.C., but not the Cardinal.
"You might think that gives Stanford a little bit of an edge," says Tar
Heels coach Anson Dorrance
, who is going for his 19th NCAA crown, "but I think all the teams in this final four are capable of winning. Every team, if they
play their game, has the opportunity to beat anyone."
Notre Dame (25-0-0) plays Stanford (22-1-1) at 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2, ESPNU) in the first semifinal, which is followed by North
Carolina (23-1-2) against UCLA (22-0-2) at 7 p.m (ESPNU). The winners play in the championship game Sunday at 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2).
"Notre Dame can grind teams up physically," says Dorrance.
"The key for Stanford is to withstand Notre Dame's combativeness. They'll try to play an attractive, possession game, while Notre Dame will be very East Coast-combative. Stanford has to use their
speed and skill to try and slay the giant."
Look at those records again: Two unbeaten teams -- Notre Dame and UCLA -- and a grand total of 90 wins, two defeats, and five ties. Only North
Carolina has conceded more than 10 goals this season.
As for his own matchup, Dorrance says, "Their attack is extraordinary, so I think this UCLA team is one for the ages. We've got to
play our trademark high-pressure defense and try to not let UCLA possess the ball so easily. It will be hard, obviously, because of our lack of speed in midfield but if we can do that we'll make it
tough on them."
UNC leads in scoring with an astounding 86 goals and Notre Dame has tallied 81, yet the UCLA attack may be peaking at the right time: the Bruins slammed six past Duke in
their 6-1 quarterfinal romp last weekend.
"It's kind of cool to have those three programs with maybe their best teams ever, and little old North Carolina," says Dorrance, who probably
won't generate much sympathy trying to play the underdog/spoiler role. "We are so looking forward to spoiling everyone's weekend."