THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

BC feels it can compete with UNC

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / October 1, 2009

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The women’s soccer program at the University of North Carolina defines perennial powerhouse. It has been that way since the days of Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly. Following in the steps of such icons, a parade of top female prep players find their way to Chapel Hill, N.C., each year. And that unparalleled depth troubles opponents and keeps North Carolina collecting NCAA titles.

“UNC plays 19 or 20 players a game and their level never drops,’’ said Boston College coach Alison Kulik. “Where they go 10 deep, we go about five deep. They have national team forwards that are not starting.’’

Kulik mentions North Carolina’s depth almost matter-of-factly. The Eagles refuse to be intimidated by the Tar Heels’ reputation and layers of talent. Looking to continue its climb up the national rankings and rebound from a loss Sunday to Florida State, No. 6 BC views tonight’s home game against No. 1 North Carolina as an opportunity to show it truly belongs among the best in women’s soccer.

Since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference, BC is 0-5 against North Carolina. This year, the Eagles have the speed, athleticism, and scoring ability necessary to win. But can they keep pace for 90 minutes with waves of Tar Heel talent? Kulik and her players believe a style that emphasizes maintaining possession of the ball gives them the best chance of defeating the Tar Heels (9-0-1, 2-0-0).

“If we win, it will be, to date, the best soccer moment for the program, for sure,’’ said Kulik, who has guided the Eagles to eight NCAA Tournament appearances since taking over in 1997. “And it’s the closest we’ve ever been, too, [to winning]. Our girls trust themselves. They trust in the training. They’re going in confident.’’

Added senior cocaptain and preseason All-America candidate Gina DiMartino: “Our team is right there. The game could go either way. To beat UNC would prove that our team is out to play this year.’’

It is easy to argue the Eagles (9-1-0, 1-1-0) already have demonstrated they are ready to challenge the best this year. Building on last season’s Sweet 16 appearance, BC started 9-0 before losing at Florida State. The Eagles have outscored opponents, 36-4, with only Harvard and Florida State notching goals.

The high-scoring DiMartino sisters, and a style where players swing the ball and change the point of attack, help account for BC’s offensive surge and success. Freshman forward Victoria DiMartino leads the Eagles with 10 goals (three game-winners), while senior midfielder Gina DiMartino ranks third on the team with five goals (two game-winners). Junior forward Brooke Knowlton has six goals (two game-winners).

“I couldn’t be any more happy that she’s here,’’ said Gina of younger sister Victoria. “She’s great to play with. We understand each other. I know what she likes . . . Her finishing has definitely helped us a lot. I felt that was one of our problems. Last year, on key possessions, we just couldn’t get the ball in the net. This year, she’s just finishing for us and that’s what we needed.’’

Raised in Massapequa Park, N.Y., the DiMartinos come from a family of four girls and one boy. The girls all became national-caliber soccer players. Older sister Christina played for UCLA and now competes for the FC Gold Pride of Women’s Professional Soccer. Youngest sister Rosie is on the U-14 national team.

“Vicki has had a fantastic freshman year and she’s made Gina better her senior year, so it’s been really good for us,’’ said Kulik. “It’s a different connection that those two have, a sisterly connection . . . [When Vicki committed to BC,] I thought we had one of the best finishers in the country. Close games that we were in last year where we couldn’t score a goal, I thought this kid is going to be our answer. She’s going to solve this for us.’’

With the DiMartinos likely leading the attack tonight, the Eagles will learn if they have enough to finish the Tar Heels.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.