Carolina women's soccer has 21 NCAA titles. The rest of the schools in America combined have ten.
Carolina women's soccer has 21 NCAA titles. The rest of the schools in America combined have ten.
View larger
Lucas: Feels Like Home
Release: 12/02/2012

By Adam Lucas

It is Sunday night at about 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, and Chapel Hill native Hanna Gardner has had approximately 90 minutes to get used to the idea that she is a national champion.

She grew up idolizing Tar Heel women's soccer players. "They were like gods to me," she says. "I would sit in the stands and it would pump me up so much to watch them play. When I was little, my dream was to play soccer for UNC. Just being able to watch such amazing players made me so much more passionate about the game."

And now she, Hanna Gardner, has just headed through the eventual game-winning goal in Carolina's 4-1 national championship victory over Penn State.

After the game, she first checked her phone, thinking she might call or text someone to share the incredible moment. But she picked it up and put it right back down. The sheer number of messages and calls she had received in just those few minutes after the game was too overwhelming.

She hugged her parents, who had made the trip to San Diego to watch their daughter, the one who wasn't really supposed to play all that much in her freshman season. They doubtless remember when she was a high schooler and leaning towards going out of state, another teenager who wanted to get away from home.

That changed when the Tar Heels began showing serious interest, and instead she chose the college a few miles away from home rather than a few states away from home.

The choice seems to have worked out. She started every game but one and played more minutes than everyone but Satara Murray. She is a defender, not a goal scorer, but...well...sometimes, things happen.

Early in the second half, after the Tar Heels and Nittany Lions had gone into the halftime locker room tied at one, Carolina earned a quick corner kick. Here, let Gardner tell it, since she probably needs to practice the story she'll be telling for the rest of her life (but you'll have to ask her to tell it, because even in the moments after the Tar Heels had claimed the 21st national title in program history, she was more eager to talk about Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai than she was to talk about herself):

"Katie Bowen was taking it, and I was going to go far post," she says. "There was no one marking me, and I was going to set a pick for Amber (Brooks). In the moment, I saw a gap, so I set the pick and then I went in the gap, and it was a perfect ball from Bowen.

"The whole thing happened very fast. I was on the ground, and I saw the ball roll in the goal and I was completely stunned."

Earlier in the day, the Tar Heels had crowded around a cell phone to watch a video compiled by various teams and players within the UNC athletic department wishing them luck. Eleven times, UNC has won the NCAA title within the borders of North Carolina. This one, though, was in San Diego, and a little slice of Chapel Hill was a welcome sight.

As she watched, Gardner was reminded of a letter written by senior Maria Lubrano to head coach Anson Dorrance. Lubrano, a High Point native, wrote, "I didn't want to go to Carolina because it was close to home. I wanted to go to Carolina because it felt like home."

The Chapel Hill product could relate to that letter. As could everyone-from Tyler Hansbrough to Mia Hamm to Bryn Renner-in the video.

"It was amazing," Gardner says. "I don't even know half of those people, and it was incredible to see how much they were supporting us. It shows how great our University is and how great our sports program is at Carolina."

Gardner was reminded that she had just played a championship soccer game for the Tar Heels in which Hamm sat in the stands cheering for her, and that by the time she got home, some girl, somewhere, would have gone out in the backyard, headed in a goal, and then screamed, "I'm Hanna Gardner!"

Gardner could only laugh. "This," she said, "is insane." 

Adam Lucas is the publisher of Tar Heel Monthly and the author or co-author of seven books on the Tar Heels.

UNC North Carolina Women's Soccer

NCEMC Touchstone Ad 2016