Minium: ODU Women’s Soccer enjoys playing the underdog role in NCAA tournament play at UNC
By Harry Minium
NORFOLK, Va.— When the Old Dominion women’s soccer team won its first Conference USA Championship last fall, the initial euphoria was dampened a bit when the NCAA tournament paired the Monarchs with No. 1 seed Duke.
A road trip to play a #1 seed? That hardly seemed like a reward. Aside from ODU’s players and coaching staff, few believed the Monarchs had a shot at winning.
But then ODU gave the Blue Devils quite a fright. The game ended in a disputed foul with 17 seconds left, a touch foul that probably shouldn’t have triggered a whistle that allowed Dukes Caitlin Cosme to drill the game-winner in a 1-0 game.
“We were so close to extra time,” said the ODU coach Angie Hind said.
Afterwards, the relieved Duke players were ebullient in their praise as they shook hands with the Monarchs. “They told us that we are so much better than they thought,” ODU continued Carla Moerich said.
Now that the Monarchs have won their second straight conference title — a three-game sweep of the Sun Belt Tournament last week in Foley, Alabama — they’re back on track to take on one of the giants in women’s soccer and again in the Triangle play North Carolina area.
ODU plays North Carolina at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Chapel Hill. Carolina (15-4-1) isn’t seeded first — the Tar Heels are a No. 2 seed — but UNC is women’s soccer’s most celebrated program.
The Heels have won 22 national titles and been runners-up five times, have won 22 ACC titles, and have been in the NCAA or AIAW tournaments for 43 consecutive seasons (the AIAW administered women’s sports until 1982).
One of America’s most famous soccer players, Mia Hamm won four national titles for the Heels in the 1990s.
“We understand where we are in the whole scheme of things,” said Hind. “Your track record over the last 20 years, the last 40 years, is just phenomenal on every level.
“Having the chance to play North Carolina is great for us. When you have the opportunity to compete with the best, it’s great for our kids and for our program.
“We want to go there and give ourselves a chance. And that’s all you want is a chance to win a game.”
Hind, who hails from Scotland, tried to explain to her relatives across the pond the challenge her team faces by comparing it to a first-round Champions League date in Barcelona.
“We’re the underdogs, but I’m Scottish and we’re always the underdogs,” she said, laughing. “So I have that mentality through and through.
“And it’s great because there’s no pressure on us. There’s no expectation on us.”
“People don’t expect us to win,” added Morich. “It’s a chance for us to show everyone we’re a great team.”
Can ODU win? “I think we absolutely can,” Morich replied. “I want to see how we stack up against them. I’m ready to fight.”
This season was very different from 2021, when ODU finished 13-5-1 and won the Conference USA East Division.
ODU played in an unknown league – the sun belt – and started 0:4. The Monarchs have gradually pulled things together, winning five in a row, including three straight Sun Belt Tournament wins, all in epic fashion.
“We lost seven seniors from last season and got a really good class of rookies,” said Hind. “But we just needed time.”
No. 6 seeded ODU upset No. 3 Arkansas State 1-0 in the quarterfinals on a Megan Watts Goal, with an assist by Anessa Arndtwith just seven minutes left.
ODU then upset No. 2 South Alabama, who had won eight of the last nine Sun Belt titles, with penalties Ece Türkoglu, the senior from Turkey, nailed the winning goal. goalkeeper Emile Bredek had five saves en route to their third shutout.
Morich, the senior from Hamburg, scored a hat-trick including a game-winner in a 4-3 overtime win over James Madison in the league game.
Turkoglu said most collegiate athletes don’t live to see winning a conference championship ring.
“Now we’ve won two,” said the senior, who has another year’s eligibility to play and plans to return next fall.
“We played so well against JMU. Every player has worked hard. We thought, ‘We’re going to win this game. There’s no way we’re going to lose.’”
Regardless of what happens at UNC, ODU is building a program where wins aren’t just celebrated. It is expected.
“I’ll be playing for my third ring in five years,” Turkoglu said, and that put things into context.
Hind and assistant head coach Michelle Barr have built a culture where players are confident and altruistic.
“Our greatest strength is our closeness, our togetherness,” Hind said. “We had a slow start but we’ve grown every day, both as people and as teammates. And of course we have some talented players.
“When you’re away at a tournament, you bond even more. If you have a really good culture, that happens.”
Hind said football, unlike other sports, is made for surprises.
“It’s not easy to hit the net in this sport,” she said. “It’s not basketball where you do it all the time.”
Morich said the monarchs would be relaxed and play with a nothing-to-lose attitude.
“We’re just going to play our game,” she said. “We are a hungry team.
“If we play well, who knows?”
Contact Minium at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him Twitter, Facebook or Instagram