CHAPEL HILL — Senior North Carolina soccer team captain Kirk Urso sported a broad grin on his face and a National Champions cap on his head Monday morning as he held up the trophy that had eluded him almost his entire college career.
The Tar Heels midfielder clutched the NCAA national championship trophy as he and his teammates were welcomed home from Hoover, Ala.. It was UNCs fourth consecutive trip to the College Cup, but Sundays 1-0 win over Charlotte marked the programs first national title since 2001.
And for Urso, who had appeared in 91 UNC games in his career, it was still difficult to wrap his head around the victory.
I still I dont think its sunk in, he said. Obviously, theres no better way to go out. The whole team has done everything weve set out to do. I know years down the road Ill be looking back at this and see how special it was. I feel complete.
The team landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport just after 9:30 a.m. and took the 20-minute bus ride to Finley Fields, where the Tar Heels trained all season to turn in a 21-2-3 record. Awaiting them were members of the UNC athletic department, including athletic director Bubba Cunningham, assistant basketball coaches and several UNC students taking a break during final exams week.
Junior forward Ben Speas, a transfer from Akron, won his second NCAA title after nailing a 65th-minute shot Sunday that proved to be the difference in the game. He was named the College Cups Most Valuable Offensive Player.
Despite not having years of playing alongside his current teammates, Speas found pleasure in sending the seniors off with a title because of how warmly they accepted him when he transferred last summer.
I think it was special because, for me, I was the new piece to their puzzle, Speas said. And there were a lot of new pieces, but everyone came together. We all bought into what (head coach) Carlos (Somoano) wanted and what style he wanted and came through to do it.
Last season, the Tar Heels lost seven starters, six of whom went to play professionally for MLS teams. And this year, UNC is set to lose five or six players from the title-winning squad.
Somoano, who was just the third coach in NCAA history to win a championship in his first year at the helm, still has his eye focused on the future, only hours after winning the title.
You always have one eye forward no matter what, even when you win a national championship and its the day after, Somoano said. Were going to try to do the same thing next year as we did this year knowing that it may not happen. But the philosophy that Ive taken this year is the one Ill take next year, and thats, I dont know if were going to do it, but I know we can.