Commentary

Anson Dorrance hits career milestone

Updated: September 7, 2010, 12:46 PM ET
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

Devoid of context, 700 is just another number, unique and round but not especially meaningful. Attached to North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance's name, though, it amplifies a career both unique and meaningful.

[+] EnlargeAnson Dorrance
Andy Mead/Icon SMIAnson Dorrance built North Carolina into the sport's pre-eminent power.

It would be difficult to pick out a more accomplished quartet of college soccer coaches than Stanford's Paul Ratcliffe, Notre Dame's Randy Waldrum, Portland's Garrett Smith and Florida State's Mark Krikorian, whose teams opened the weekend ranked second through fifth, respectively, in the nation. Between them, Ratcliffe, Waldrum, Smith and Krikorian have coached a combined 30 full seasons and won 582 games while in their current respective positions.

Which is 118 fewer wins than Dorrance as he makes his way through his 32nd season as the only women's soccer coach ever employed at North Carolina.

With No. 1 North Carolina's 7-2 win against Tennessee on Saturday, Dorrance earned career win No. 700, a total that leaves peers simply shaking their heads.

"First of all, to put it in perspective, I have to coach until I'm like 100 to catch him," Yale's Rudy Meredith chuckled the same weekend the winningest coach in his program's history picked up victory No. 157 in the opening game of his 16th season. "That just shows you the consistency of the program for a long, long, long, long time -- not just for a couple of years, 10 years, whatever. And he not only wins, he wins championships."

The math gets a tad mind-numbing. Connecticut's Len Tsantiris is the only other coach in the history of women's college soccer with as many as 400 wins, and he's more than 200 wins behind Dorrance. North Carolina's coach has come out on the right side of 21 national championship games; he has lost just 36 games in all.

And although none of that was reality when he tried to persuade Janet Rayfield to be part of the school's first varsity women's soccer team in 1979, it was imaginable to at least one person.

"I remember my recruiting visit there," said Rayfield, the coach at Illinois. "And we walked around on campus, and he said, 'Janet, we're going to build a dynasty. We're going to win a national championship.' And he had no data to prove that to anybody, but I believed him. And he made good on his promise."

The first title came three years later in 1981, under the AIAW banner. The first NCAA title came a year after that in Rayfield's senior season. But titles or no, Dorrance was Dorrance before that was a brand name in soccer.

"Anson, in his own way, hasn't changed much about that," Rayfield said. "Anson could sell ice to Eskimos. But the thing is, it's genuine. He truly believes that, and he's willing to put the work in to accomplish those kinds of things."

Seven months shy of his 60th birthday, he's still at it, and the win against Tennessee was statistically significant for reasons beyond Dorrance's milestone.

When the season began, the biggest question facing North Carolina was how it would replace a group of seniors that won three national titles in four years. The starting lineup against Tennessee included just three players who started more than two games last season. Yet the supposedly reloading Tar Heels have outscored their first five opponents by a 21-5 margin (posting a 4-0-1 record), more goals than the program scored in its first five games in any of the past four seasons.

Without the departed players and with injuries to key veterans Ali Hawkins and Rachel Givan, the beat rolls on behind yet another new generation of stars such as freshman Kealia Ohai (four goals, two assists in her first five games) and another round of under-the-radar stalwarts such as sophomore defender Megan Brigman (450 of a possible 470 minutes this season after playing a total of 36 minutes last season).

The task is tougher these days. Eight of his losses, more than 20 percent of his career total, have come in the past three seasons. But two of those seasons ended with championships, and, truth be told, the only task tougher than maintaining a dynasty might be replacing it. Odds are it won't include celebrating 700 wins.

"I hate to see the person, male or female, who has to replace that," Meredith offered with a final shake of the head. "I wouldn't want to be that person."

Around the nation

• Illinois likely will remain in the "others receiving votes" hinterlands of the Top 25 after splitting the weekend in the Nutmeg State with a 2-1 overtime loss at Connecticut on Friday and a 1-0 win Sunday at Yale. But the Illini nonetheless look like a much tougher out than last season, when they missed the NCAA tournament after reaching at least the second round each of the previous five seasons, including one quarterfinal and two Sweet 16 trips. With impact freshman Vanessa DiBernardo added to a group of maturing returning talent, Rayfield's team outshot the Huskies and Bulldogs and has 107 shots in five games after totaling 281 in 19 games last season.

"I think we're the most dynamic we've been in a long time," Rayfield said. "That's creating chances for us, and I think as we get comfortable with that, we get used to that, we get really comfortable with that, the goal is to turn a lot more of those chances into actual goals."

• Illinois might not make the Top 25, but one Big Ten team might crack the rankings for the first time this season, at least indirectly at the expense of another. No. 16 Penn State lost 1-0 at Yale and 3-2 at Connecticut to drop to 1-3-1 on the season. That opens the door for Minnesota, which upset No. 14 San Diego, 2-1, the first signature win for the Golden Gophers in a five-game winning streak since losing 1-0 at Notre Dame to open the season.

Already a strong defensive team in front of keeper Cat Parkhill, Minnesota had just three players score more than three goals last season. But led by Shari Eckstrom's four goals, three players are already at or above that mark this season -- a list that doesn't even include leading returning goal scorer Katie Bethke, who already has five assists.

• Auburn had the biggest "sticker shock" upset of the weekend, against No. 5 Florida State, but Yale's 1-0 win against Penn State ranks on the same level when you consider it was the first game of the season for the Bulldogs. In addition to Penn State and Illinois, Yale plays at Connecticut, Duke and Boston College in its first five games. It's a schedule even Meredith admits is more "top-heavy" than he might have intended, but with Yale led by 5-foot-1 Becky Brown, as good as any other attacking player inch for inch, the Penn State win might not be the last against a big-name foe.

"They're begging me to push them harder in practice," Meredith said. "We've gone from one fitness test to three fitness tests in preseason, which we've never done before. But that's a request for them for me to push them harder. It's that type of group that just wants to be pushed to the next level."

Quick hits

Auburn's 3-2 double-overtime win against No. 5 Florida State on Friday was the program's first win against a top-five opponent since beating Florida in 2004. Katy Frierson scored the winner against the Seminoles and is making an early push for SEC Player of the Year with four goals and three assists in five games. … No. 17 Wake Forest beat Kentucky 2-0 on Sunday, even though Demon Deacons freshman standout Rachel Nuzzolese, who had a goal and two assists in Friday's win against LSU, failed to score for the first time as a collegian. You're doing something right if you're a freshman earning notice for not scoring and it's not even Labor Day. … No. 18 Duke matched school records for goals and for margin of victory in a 9-0 win against Francis Marion. … No. 25 Georgia has scored 16 goals in four consecutive wins after a 1-0 opening loss against Duke. It's the first time the Bulldogs have scored at least three goals in four consecutive games.

Graham Hays covers women's college soccer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.