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Goal In Sight 

Goal In SightWomen 49ers head toward another title

When Neil Roberts was an assistant coach to UNC Chapel-Hill's Anson Dorrance, it was like taking a course in psychology -- learning the right approach to produce a winning women's soccer team.

Roberts obviously was a good student. His team is favored to win the Conference USA tournament that runs November 6-9 at Transamerica Field. The 49ers (14-0-2 as of October 31) are off to their best start in the nine-year history of the program, winning the regular-season conference title and posting non-league victories over Duke (first ever) and Florida State, both members of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference. In national polls as of October 28, soccer coaches ranked Charlotte 12th and soccer writers ranked it 14th.

"Anson taught me the psychology of coaching females," Roberts recalls of the legendary Tar Heel coach, whose teams have won 17 national titles. To understand Dorrance's pre-eminence in the field, consider this. This summer he came out with a book entitled, The Vision of a Champion: Advice and Inspiration from the World Most Successful Women's Soccer Coach.

Says Roberts, "The biggest thing is he kept the game in perspective. After practice was over, it was time for the players to enjoy their lives. He never made soccer bigger than life. When I see our players on campus, for example, I don't ask about soccer. I ask about other things."

Roberts assisted Dorrance in 1987 and 1988 while earning a master's degree in physical education at Chapel Hill. He learned that women who play collegiate soccer want balance in their lives. They put a priority on schoolwork even during the season, and they respond best when the coach doles out appreciation as well as discipline. "You need just enough "kick butt' and just enough compassion," Robert says. "They don't see glory, glitz and glamour in being a college athlete. They want to play top college soccer, attend a good academic institution and have a coach that takes care of them and the team."

Charlotte had a good women's soccer program before Roberts arrived prior to the 1999 season. He came to the 49ers after turning around the program at East Carolina. Begun under Robbie Church, now the head women's soccer coach at Duke, the 49ers won conference titles in 1995 and 1998 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament in 1998. But what Charlotte lacked was a consistent goal scorer, someone who would complement the Charlotte's strong defense.

Enter Courtney Crandell. A freshman forward from Des Moines, Iowa, she was the state's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2001 and a five-year member of the region's Olympic Development Program. She heard about Charlotte from the school's former goalkeeper coach, Scott Schweitzer, and then selected the school because she felt welcome. "They were a tight-knit group," she says. "I remember sitting in the locker room talking to them. The seniors didn't have to be nice, but they were."

Roberts says the closeness of the team is apparent on the field as well. "The girls play for each other," he says.

Defender Mikel Casey remembers the hype about Crandell. "People said, "Wait "til you see her shot.' I said, "Yeah, I'll wait until she gets here and shows me something.'" Casey, a senior, soon saw what she'd been hoping for since coming to the school four years ago -- a great scorer. "She has quickness," Casey says. "She can turn on the ball and it's a goal. In the past, our team always worked hard, but we couldn't score. Last season we lost 11 games by one goal."

Not this year. With only one regular-season game remaining (November 1 against St. Louis), the 49ers were outscoring opponents about 2.5 to 1, rolling up 49 goals to their opponents' 19. Crandell broke the school's single-season scoring record of 18 when she scored her 18th and 19th goals in a 6-1 win over Louisville in the next-to-last regular-season game. The next highest scorers are senior midfielder Jennie Leeder with seven goals and junior forward Lindsay Duncan with six. Senior Jenn Howell, a four-year starter in the goal, has 64 saves and three shutouts in the 11 games she's played since a sprained ankle early in the season.

Now the 49ers hope to bring home their third Conference USA title and continue toward their goal of becoming entrenched as one of the top programs in the region. Do they want to rival Atlantic Coast Conference teams? Roberts isn't ready to say that, but he wants to keep scheduling them. "I would like to think we can compete with ACC teams," he says. Beating Dorrance's UNC-Chapel Hill squad, of course, would be the ultimate.

OvertimeDid anyone find Andy Rooney's comment about women not being fit to be reporters on NFL sidelines hilarious? Here's what the 60 Minutes' curmudgeon had to say: "The only thing that really bugs me about television's coverage is those damn women they have down on the sidelines who don't know what the hell they're talking about. I mean, I'm not a sexist person, but a woman has no business being down there trying to make some comment about a football game." Let see, does Andy Rooney have any business commenting on the topics he does? From this statement, he's obviously not qualified...Tiger Woods isn't willing to rock the status quo in pressing for the issue of female membership at Augusta National, home of the Masters. "It would be nice to see everyone have an equal chance to participate, but there is nothing you can do about it," he says. Good thing people advocating for opening up golf to African-Americans didn't take that attitude. Note to Tiger: Reflect on that...The Charlotte City Council would serve the community well by helping find a way to build a whitewater park, which would be used by the public and Olympic hopefuls. The council swished a three-pointer when it moved the arena site to First Ward. Not only is it near the line for light rail and the trolley, it's more in the heart of the city. Had it gone to Third Ward, the area could have been renamed "Deadsville," because events at an arena and at Ericsson Stadium wouldn't have brought the constancy of traffic to spur development near the county's planned park. From a safety standpoint, who wants to go to a park that's isolated with few people around.

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