CARY, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina is in familiar territory, playing for another women’s soccer championship just a short drive from its Chapel Hill campus.

The Tar Heels (26-1) play unbeaten Notre Dame (25-0-1) today seeking their 18th national championship. North Carolina – which last won the title in 2003 – has never gone more than two years without winning the College Cup.

“It was a huge disappointment the last two years – we had such a strong team,” Heather O’Reilly said, adding that coach Anson Dorrance has “said it a couple times now. The saddest thing about the last couple of years was that nobody got to really see how talented we were.”

Dorrance, who earned his 800th coaching victory in the semifinals, now seeks win No. 801 against Notre Dame and coach Randy Waldrum, who said he has never beaten the veteran North Carolina coach.

“I’ve played against Anson an awful lot of times and I’ve never won. I think personally it would mean a lot because you always want to challenge yourself against one of the best coaches in the country,” Waldrum said. “We’re not in awe of Carolina. We think they’ve got a great team and the legacy of their program is unparalleled.”

North Carolina advanced to the finals when Casey Nogueira broke a scoreless tie with a goal in the 84th minute of the Tar Heels’ 2-0 semifinal win over UCLA.

“To be back here, it’s really a thrill,” said O’Reilly, who had an insurance goal 2 minutes later. “I think that my freshman year, we hadn’t lost a game the whole season … I think maybe I took it for granted a little bit because this women’s game has gotten better and better and talent across the board is so much stronger, so you can’t take anything for granted.”

Notre Dame will play for its third national championship. The Irish scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the first half and held off a fierce Florida State attack in the second half of a 2-1 win.

Freshman Courtney Rosen put the Fighting Irish on the board in the 36th minute.

The Irish remained the nation’s only unbeaten team and set up a clash with a North Carolina team that has not lost since dropping its season opener in double overtime against Texas A&M.

North Carolina and Notre Dame have met in the championship game three times before – in 1994, ’96 and ’99 – with the Tar Heels winning all three contests.

AP-ES-12-02-06 1548EST


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