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Sunday December 6, 1998Florida Wins NCAA Title Over North Carolina

Greensboro, NC

Four years of hard work, dreams, and determination have transformed the University of Florida women’s soccer team into National Champions. Florida defeated North Carolina 1-0 Sunday in the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship for its first national title in only its fourth season in program history.

The Gators (26-1) used a punishing defense and an opportunistic offense to end two-time defending national champion North Carolina’s streak of 46-consecutive wins.

"It is just a storybook ending for these seniors," said Florida Head Coach Becky Burleigh, the first female head coach to win the NCAA women’s soccer national championship. "They came here four years ago with no program and have taken it full circle to win a national championship."

Florida struck quickly in the match after Danielle Fotopoulos was fouled just outside the UNC penalty box. Fotopoulos, the tournament’s Offensive Most Valuable Player, pounded a free kick over Tar Heel goalkeeper Siri Mullinix and off the top crossbar into the net at 5:23 into the match.

North Carolina (25-1) controlled the pace of the game but was forced to play mostly outside of Florida’s penalty area by the Gators’ hard marking in the midfield and on the front line.

When the Tar Heels were able to create chances in the box, Florida’s defensive backs and goalkeeper Meredith Flaherty were able to clear the ball from danger. Flaherty, the tournament’s Defensive Most Valuable Player, had eight saves. None were tougher than her diving one-handed punch of a deflected shot from UNC’s Anne Remy with less than three minutes to play in the first half.

The Gators were called for 31 fouls in the match, while North Carolina only committed four. The fouls often were called deep in Florida’s end of the field, giving UNC many opportunities for crosses and shots inside UF’s penalty area.

"Playing hard, sometimes you get fouls called against you," said Fotopoulos, who ends her collegiate career with NCAA records for goals (118) and points (284). "But it gave Carolina some free-kick chances."

Florida’s Abby Wambach had a chance to give UF a two-goal lead 13 minutes into the second half. She received a pass from defender Keisha Bell behind the Tar Heels defense, but her seven-yard rocket shot was knocked away by Mullinix.

UF then played most of the rest of the second half with as many players behind the ball as possible. North Carolina pressed forward and took 12 shots to Florida’s two in the second half.

"They put tons of pressure on us," said Burleigh. "We were just lucky to hold on."

The win for Florida avenges a 2-1 overtime loss to North Carolina earlier this season and is the first victory for UF over the Tar Heels in six meetings.

"We all wanted to play Carolina and were hoping for it Friday night," Flaherty said. "To win a national championship, you have to go through them."

North Carolina outshot the Gators 21-6, but were still shut out for the first time since 1995. The defeat was the first for the Tar Heels in a NCAA Tournament final since 1985.

"To win a national championship in only their fourth year is truly amazing," said North Carolina Head Coach Anson Dorrance.

Florida led all teams with five players on the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship All-Tournament Team. Defenders Heather Mitts and Keisha Bell and midfielder Sarah Yohe joined Fotopoulos and Flaherty on the team.

The match was played before a UNC-partisan crowd of 10,583 at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro Soccer Field. The total attendance set a NCAA record for a crowd at a women’s college soccer match in the United States.

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