Saving the Best for Last

North Andover Star Shines in Title Game

~ By John McLaughlin

For most athletes, winning the league title in high school is as good as it gets.

For North Andover’s Tracy Noonan, it’s gotten better. Much better.

Noonan, the 1990 Eagle-Tribune Player of the Year, backboned the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team to its ninth straight national title from her goalkeeper position.

For the record, she led North Andover High to a 17-0-1 record and the Cape Ann League title in 1990.

“To be honest, I can’t really remember how we did in high school,” said Noonan. “I think we might have won our junior and senior years. But I never felt any pressure in high school.”

At UNC, they are expected to do nothing less.

“That’s why I came here,” explained Noonan, a senior with another year of soccer eligibility. “At first the pressure affected my play. I wasn’t playing up to my potential. But, now, I’m much more relaxed and having fun.”

Of course, it’s fun being the best in the nation. Even more so, it’s a lot of hard work.

“I think the reason Tracy started for us in the NCAAs is because she worked so hard in the offseason,” said UNC coach Anson Dorrance.

Noonan alternated with highly-touted keeper Shelley Finger throughout the season, but was given the nod for the playoffs.

“Coach has always gone with one keeper in the NCAAs,” said Noonan, who started 15 of UNC’s 25 games this year – allowing just six goals. “It was a really nice feeling when he gave me the starting job. It was a great reinforcement to all the hard work I’ve put in over the past couple of years.”

A walk-on, Noonan has had to work hard from day 1 at UNC. In fact, up until the playoffs, about the only chance she got to relax was in the games.

“I wouldn’t say I got shelled or anything this season,” admitted Noonan, who has 19.5 career shutouts for the Tar Heels. I look at some other keepers and they’re making 25 saves a game. I think I might have had 30 all year.”

Actually, she had 36. But who’s counting? She saved the best for last – and on national television, no less.

“Her first save in the Clemson game was spectacular,” said Dorrance. “The shooter had a chance from the box with a header and Tracy made a diving save. From that first save to the last, she had a great run.

“One of the best things about (defending the title) is that it was on national TV and we beat Notre Dame (5-0), a team we’d tied earlier in the season. They really came on in the second half and Tracy was wonderful, making saves all over the box.

“I think everyone is convinced that Tracy is a big-time goalkeeper.”

Everyone, that is, with the possible exception of Noonan herself.

“I don’t know that it’s sunk in yet,” said the All-Atlantic Coast Conference goalie. “People are still congratulating me. It amazes me how far I’ve come. It’s just a fantastic feeling to know that I’ve actually achieved one of my goals.”

Article used with permission