Satara Murray, Kealia Ohai and the rest of University of North Carolina women’s soccer team returned to Chapel Hill, N.C., late Sunday, but days later, they’re undoubtedly basking in the afterglow of what was accomplished on their business trip to San Diego. Murray and Ohai each scored a goal in the Tar Heels’ 4-1 victory over Penn State on Dec. 2 to capture an NCAA national championship.
“This is the first time we’ve both won a national championship,” said Murray, referring to her and Ohai. “It’s mind-blowing to win a championship, especially your first. I know I’ll always remember it. We’ll always remember winning it at the University of San Diego.”
Some 2,500 miles west of Chapel Hill, USD administrators from the athletics department and other campus entities likely share Murray’s sentiment in terms of the end result.
That’s because Torero Stadium hosted USD’s first national championship event last weekend, the NCAA Women’s College Cup. Four teams — North Carolina, Penn State, Stanford and Florida State — arrived last Wednesday, attended a championship banquet at San Diego’s Hall of Champions, played exciting overtime semifinal games in rainy weather Friday night and then UNC and Penn State played for the title. The two-day attendance total was 14,219 for three competitive soccer games. Ticket-holders also attended a Fan Fest prior to each game day, weathered the conditions Friday in good spirits with ponchos and umbrellas and were rewarded with a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon for the finale.
“I’m really proud that we were able to pull off all aspects of the College Cup,” said Shaney Fink, USD’s senior associate director of athletics and College Cup director. “The goal was to provide a championship feel in every aspect of what we did, and I believe that we were successful.”
The event, which Fink said was in the planning stage for more than a year and utilized more than 250 USD and community volunteers, was successful because of strong coordination between athletics and several campus departments.
“Across campus we had tremendous support from everyone to make this event a success,” said Ky Snyder, USD’s executive director of athletics. “This was a campus community effort and everyone deserves to be applauded for working so well together and the cooperation along the way. I’m certainly proud of everyone involved.”
Hosting the College Cup, Snyder said, brought USD priceless national marketing exposure. Games were shown on ESPN’s networks, spirited and vocal fans were present — former women’s soccer stars Mia Hamm (North Carolina graduate) and Brandi Chastain attended — and Southern California soccer community members came out in droves.
“ESPN’s coverage of the championship was fantastic. All of the visitors to campus enjoyed the experience,” Snyder said. “The athletics director from North Carolina attended mass Sunday and he texted me when he got out to say how beautiful the campus is. He said he’d seen pictures, but experiencing it put it in a whole new perspective. That’s what is good about these events. It exposes people to the campus that normally would not. If we continue to do this, it can only add to our national reputation.”
Ada Greenwood, USD women’s soccer coach, had attended previous College Cups that were hosted mainly on the east coast. He said he felt confident that USD and Torero Stadium would be an ideal host site. He approached USD athletics administrators with the idea and it quickly evolved.
Torero Stadium isn’t new to hosting big soccer events. It’s been the site for multiple U.S. women’s national team, Major League Soccer (L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA) and international exhibitions. Greenwood said USD, if given the chance, “would do it as first class as we could so that everyone would feel they were attending a great event.”
“We couldn’t have asked for a more special environment for soccer fans or for those who came to the university for the first time,” Greenwood said. “Even with the weather challenges on Friday the fans were still there in the stands. Everyone I spoke with during the weekend was highly complimentary of USD and how well it was run. Shaney and (Athletics Facilities and Operations Director) Josh (Lawrence) put in an unbelievable amount of work into this weekend. I’m sure neither of them got a lot of sleep last week, but my compliments to both of them.”
The university’s success in hosting College Cup raises an obvious question. Will USD host future NCAA national championship events? Snyder said USD is slated to host a NCAA golf regional in 2015 and Fowler Park, USD’s renovated ballpark, is designed to host NCAA Regional and Super Regional events.
“We’ll continue to evaluate opportunities for hosting NCAA championships,” Snyder said. “Some are selected well into the future, while others come up year to year. We will go after those that make the most sense for campus and our staff.”
— Ryan T. Blystone