30 in 30: Can Carolina Avoid Championship Distractions?
|Carolina's Brittany Coppa returns
after playing a big role in the Tar Heels' breakout 2013
North Carolina coach Jenny Levy calls them "pleasurable distractions." They include appearing at halftime of a Tar Heels football game, and getting gear emblazoned with "2013 NCAA champions" on it. In May, for the first time in program history, North Carolina won an NCAA championship. Come spring 2014, there will be another first: the Tar Heels will have to defend a national championship.
"I think our team understands there's a lot of work to be done, and we're no different than everyone else out there with high expectations for the season," Levy said. "But they also understand that it took a lot of work, and not to get ahead of yourself and think about an end result."
Certainly, North Carolina returns so much of the national championship team that a title defense is a distinct possibility. Leading scorer and Tewaaraton finalist Kara Cannizzaro graduated, along with two other starting midfielders, Jess Griffin and Emily Garrity. But that line can be easily repopulated with juniors Brittany Coppa and Taylor George. Coppa in particular impressed over the past weekend at a Navy play day and a scrimmage against Northwestern. Her speed and strength are impressive, and she shot .562% last year, the best of any starter. And there's always the chance of a breakout freshman. Carly Reed notched a pair of goals in the Tar Heels' 12-6 win against the Wildcats. Levy makes a point of playing her entire roster in fall ball.
"We're trying to elevate everybody's game, not just a few kids' game," Levy said.
The defense is well anchored by sophomore goalie Meg Ward, and both Sloane Serpe and Margaret Corzel will return in the spring, although Serpe is sitting out the fall with injury. On attack, Abbey Friend has slick inside moves and pinpoint shooting.
If the Tar Heels think about the 2013 championship at all, it's most about the dynamics of the game itself, an instant classic triple overtime thriller in which the Tar Heels defeated the then-undefeated Terps, 13-12, before a crowd of more than nine thousand fans.
"There's a lot to be learned from that game," Levy said. "What we should be doing right now is having a vision for where the college game should be going. We had so much positive feedback from the championship game, and the sport really had a lot of energy around it, and it was an opportunity to look at that game and think what were the elements of that game that really engaged fans and people who don't know much about the sport, because they're the future of growth."
Levy liked the back-and-forth nature of the game – both Maryland and North Carolina are loathe to stall – and the game's speed and high score. She's not a fan of the new stick-check rule, instituted this fall and expected to be made permanent for the 2014 season, after every goal, because it slows down the pace of the game.
"The NCAA right now, their focus on all of their sports is how to play faster and how to make it more fan-friendly, and how to make it more media friendly. And we have to be aware of that, and we are not. We have to look at our sport from an unbiased view, not a traditional view and say what's the best for the fans and best for the growth of the sport," she said.
Looking ahead to the future, Levy is excited to see the 2014 edition of the Tar Heels come together, and to celebrate the program's 20th anniversary the season after that.
"It's just been a good journey. We've enjoyed it a lot," she said.