6 years ago to the day, Oliver Weiss was the top assistant coach of the UNC men’s soccer team that squared off against Stanford in the national semifinals. That team included yours truly as low man on the totem pole, a walk-on who found the field only twice during the season.
I’ll never forget that night. It was brutally cold in Columbus, Ohio at Crew Stadium. The 30+ mph winds didn’t help the mood, and neither did the fact that Stanford was absolutely brilliant for about 65 minutes. They scored a 1st half goal and had us on our heels (no pun intended!) the whole time. When they scored a 2nd midway through half #2, I distinctly remember looking at a teammate and saying, “well, it’s been a great year. Final Four is not bad.”
And then there was a bit of hope. David Testo hit a scremer from 35 yds out and we were suddenly only a goal behind. Little more than a minute later we had won a free kick in the Stanford end – the cross led to a header, which deflected violently off the crossbar, only to be finished superbly by the skillful Matt Crawford.
We had gone from 2-0 down and dead in the water to all level in the matter of minutes.
It would take much longer to finally settle things. In the 4th OT, Mike Gell got behind the Stanford defense off a punt from our GK, and was able to poke the winning goal home.
A truly golden goal. Utter euphoria. And an understanding among everyone wearing Carolina blue that we had just experienced something that would stay with us for a lifetime.
Sunday’s final lacked the drama but was no less exciting – a convincing 2-0 win over Indiana made us National Champions. I remember running around the field wearing my championship hat and shirt, covered in confetti, throughly amazed at what had happened.
It was not long after that day that Oliver Weiss left to become the head coach at Virginia Tech. He told us all then that VaTech was a “sleeping giant” – a school that was waiting to become a powerhouse.
None of us doubted that Oli could make it happen. I’m not sure anyone thought it would happen this quickly. Weiss will lead his team against Wake Forest today in the national semifinal – 6 years to the day after the magical night in Columbus. Welcome home Oliver – I hope you’re able to recapture the spirit of 2001.