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Jerry's World

Florida winning NCAA womenís title was no fluke; Clemson meeting Indiana in menís quarterfinals certainly was.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Monday, December 7, 1998) -- The stunning victory by Florida in the NCAA soccer tournament is a huge boost to women's soccer, with ramifications far beyond the upset of the North Carolina dynasty.

The Gators won in only their fourth season of varsity competition. Florida is well-known for its football prowess, but recently decided to put resources into women's soccer, and the results were on full display last weekend in Greensboro, N.C.

It follows in the footsteps of Notre Dame, which won in 1995. Nebraska, furthermore, has achieved Top 10 status the past three years as well.

Look for other big money football powers -- under increasing pressure to provide more women's sports, and with egos to settle for nothing less than championships -- to follow suit.

The timing is right for even more growth in women's soccer, at all levels. Coming up next summer: the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, hosted by the United States, which is the team favorite, to boot. That event in June-July figures to be the greatest women's sports event in history.

Returning now to the Gators and their immense accomplishment:

1. It was no fluke. They had lost to the Tar Heels in overtime during the regular season.

2. Florida was outplayed as well as outshot 21-6, but not outclassed as are so many North Carolina opponents.

3. The Gators had offensive chances, particularly the first half, and were blessed with a fabulous goalkeeper Meredith Flaherty. It's hard to recall a better performance than the one turned in by the Clemson transfer Flaherty, who had eight saves and dominated the penalty box area. National team coach Tony DiCicco should look at her closely.

Some Tar Heel fans complained about having to go four overtimes in the semifinals, and that the Gators were overly physical, committing 31 fouls -- compared with four by North Carolina.

Forget it.

1. The Tar Heels have four starters with considerable national team playing experience.

2. The Florida opposition in the semifinals -- Santa Clara -- was far superior to the UNC foe, outmanned Portland, which managed just one shot in nearly 150 minutes. Furthermore, here is a quote attributed to Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith about North Carolina in Sports Illustrated: "When you watch them play, you can see the edge they have. I'll go beyond aggressiveness; it's meanness. Anson has found a way to bring that out of his players. They don't care how many fouls they have, they don't care how they're perceived. They're going to be nasty." The Tar Heels, to their credit, didn't complain about the physical play by the Gators.

3. The Final Four was in North Carolina, practically a home match for the Tar Heels.

The reign of North Carolina probably was just interrupted. The talent pipeline continues to flow into Chapel Hill. Another banner recruiting crop is headed for North Carolina, which has won national titles 15 of 18 years under Dorrance. And the increased number of Floridas may help him even more as the talent gets spread out -- unless he loses his extraordinary recruiting touch.

On the NCAA men's side, more egg on the face is due the tournament seeding committee.

The two best teams No. 1 seed Clemson and No. 8 Indiana, ranked 1-2 in every national poll -- met Sunday in an outstanding match . . . in the quarterfinals. The Hoosiers weathered a second-half assault to edge the Tigers 2-1 and advance to the Final Four.

Nothing against the other semifinalists -- Maryland, Stanford and Santa Clara -- but Clemson belongs in the final round with Indiana.

The problem? The Hoosiers, despite being ranked in the top five all season, were seeded eighth due to strength of schedule, among other factors, and thus were slotted to go against the top seed in the quarterfinals. Too much reliance is placed on the computer for both selection and seeding. It should never be used ahead of common sense.

Last year, the committee erred in the selection phase, failing to pick deserving Duke, for the 32-team event, an incredible omission topped only by the No. 8 seeding accorded Indiana this year.

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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