Dorrance insists that players call him Anson. Before the last home game of the season, he presents each senior with a red rose. On the wall in his office is this sign: PEOPLE DON'T CARE HOW MUCH YOU KNOW UNTIL THEY KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CARE. "That is the critical element in coaching women," Dorrance says. "You can't get me to do anything unless you care about me first. Soccer is not that important to them. Connection is."
But this year Dorrance's ability to read, connect with and coach women has been called into question. On Aug. 25, two of his former players—forward Debbie Keller, one of only six Tar Heels to have had her number retired, and goalkeeper Melissa Jennings—sued Dorrance and the university for $12 million, alleging that he sexually harassed them and caused them emotional distress while they were on the team. Dorrance denies the charges. So far there's been no talk of settlement: The university is standing by its coach, while the plaintiffs want him removed.
"Humiliating," Dorrance calls the suit. "This sort of thing undermines everything. It shatters your family."
The case has fallen into the usual rut of rumor, demonization and legal maneuvering, and only one thing is clear: Somewhere, Dorrance made a mistake. Either he was wrong when he decided he knew his accusers, or he was wrong when he decided he knew what women want.
LETTER TO THE PLAINTIFF
Jan. 1, 1994
Just a quick note to confirm all the things about you that I knew the day we started recruiting you to come to Chapel Hill: You are an incredible soccer player, and your freshman year was remarkable. You are a wonderfully positive person and even though there must be times when you are down we never see it because you have class and strength to deal with everything. You are a riveting beacon for UNC women's soccer....
On a more personal level, I want to thank you for taking the time to write out the words to that poster that reflect you so beautifully, I want to thank you for your card (M'Liss appreciated the things you shared). I also want you to know I appreciate all the time you took to recruit for us.
And just in case you couldn't tell, I have great affection for you because of the kind way you treat everyone and the matchless way you conduct yourself. See you soon.
Nothing seemed to change. News of the lawsuit broke, but the team kept winning. Led by Cindy Parlow, the 1997 national Player of the Year, the Tar Heels shrugged off the loss of four key seniors to go 18-0 during the '98 regular season and carry the No. 1 ranking into the NCAA tournament. It was the usual North Carolina story: The Tar Heels were more talented, more aggressive, hungrier than everyone they played. They have outscored their opponents 97-6. They haven't been beaten in 69 games. "Watch them!" Virginia coach April Heinrichs, a former Tar Heels star, told her team during the 13th-ranked Cavaliers' 5-1 loss to Carolina in late October. "They run because they want to, not because they have to."
They've wanted to even more this year. The one blessing of the suit, Dorrance and his players say, is that it has knit the team together more tightly. "It makes us practice harder," says midfielder Laurie Schwoy. "We think, Let's support Anson. We're going to show him how much we care about him by how hard we play."