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Minium: ODU Women's Soccer Relishes Playing the Underdog Role in NCAA Tournament Game at UNC

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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 at No. 1 seed Duke.
 
A road trip to play a No. 1 seed? That hardly seemed like a reward. Few beyond ODU's players and coaching staff believed the Monarchs had a chance of winning.
 
But then ODU gave the Blue Devils quite a scare. The game came down a to a controversial foul with 17 seconds left, a touch foul that likely should not have drawn a whistle, that allowed Duke's Caitlin Cosme to drill the game-winner in a 1-0 game.
 
"We were so close to overtime," ODU coach Angie Hind said.
 
Afterwards the relieved Duke players were effusive in their praise as they shook hands with the Monarchs. "They told us that we were so much better than they thought we would be," ODU forward Carla Morich said.
 
Now that the Monarchs have won their second conference title in a row – a three-game sweep of the Sun Belt Tournament last week in Foley, Alabama – they're again headed to play one of the giants in women's soccer and again in the Triangle area of North Carolina.
 
ODU plays North Carolina in Chapel Hill Saturday night at 7. Carolina (15-4-1) isn't seeded first – the Tar Heels are a No. 2 seed – but UNC is the most storied of women's soccer programs.
 
The Heels have won 22 national titles and been runners-up five times, they've won 22 ACC titles and been to the NCAA or AIAW tournaments for 43 consecutive seasons (the AIAW administered women's sports until 1982).
 

 

Mia Hamm, one of the most well-known American soccer players, won four national titles for the Heels in the 1990s.
 
"We understand where we are in the whole scheme of things," Hind said. "Their record the last 20 years, the last 40 years, is just phenomenal at any level.
 
"To have a chance to play North Carolina, it's great for us. When you have a chance to test yourselves against 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 is from Scotland, tried to explain the challenge her team faces to her relatives across the pond by likening it to a first-round Champions League date at 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 are no expectations on us."


 
"People don't expect us to win," Morich added. "This is a chance for us to show everyone that we're a great team."
 
Can ODU win? "I think we can absolutely," Morich answered. "I want to see how we do 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 unfamiliar league – the Sun Belt – and got off to an 0-4 start. The Monarchs gradually got things together and have won five in a row, including winning three in a row in the Sun Belt Tournament, all in epic fashion.
 
"We lost seven seniors from last season, and we brought in a real good class of newcomers," Hind said. "But we just needed time."
 
No. 6 seed ODU upset No. 3 Arkansas State 1-0 in the quarterfinals on a Megan Watts goal, with an assist from Anessa Arndt, with just seven minutes left.
 
ODU then upset No. 2 South Alabama, which had won eight of the last nine Sun Belt titles, on penalty kicks with Ece Turkoglu, the senior from Turkey, nailing the game-winner. Goalkeeper Emily Bredek had five saves en route to her third shutout.


 
Morich, the senior from Hamburg, Germany, had a hat trick, including the game-winner, in a 4-3 overtime victory over James Madison in the championship game.
 
Turkoglu said earning one conference championship ring is something most college athletes don't get to experience.
 
"Now we've won two," said the senior, who has another year of eligibility and plans to return next fall.
 
"We played so well against JMU. Every player worked hard. We were like, 'We're winning this game. No way we're going to lose.'"
 
Regardless of what happens at UNC, ODU is building a program where winning is not just celebrated. It's expected.
 
"I'm going to play for my third ring in five years" Turkoglu said, and that put things in context.
 
Hind and associate head coach Michelle Barr have built a culture in which the players are confident and unselfish.


 
"Our biggest strength is how close we are, our togetherness," Hind said. "We got off to a slow start, but we've continued to grow every single day both as people and as teammates. And obviously, we've got some talented players.
 
"When you're away in a tournament, you come even closer together. If you have a real good culture, that's what happens."
 
Hind said soccer, unlike some other sports, is tailor-made for upsets.
 
"It's not easy to hit the back of the net in this sport," she said. "It's not basketball where you do it all the time."
 
Morich said the Monarchs will be loose and play with a nothing-to-lose attitude.
 
"We're just going to play our game," she said. "We're a hungry team.
 
"If we play well, who knows?"
 
Contact Minium at hminium@odu.edu or follow him on TwitterFacebook or Instagram