Hannah Daly has a lot to show after four seasons on the most prestigious collegiate soccer team in the nation.
Her most recent achievement is a national championship title.
The South Tahoe native capped her four years at North Carolina defending her team's goal as it took the 2012 NCAA Women's College Cup championship match. The Tar Heels defeated No. 1 seeded Penn State 4-1 earlier this month in San Diego to claim their 22nd national title.
It was an improbable climb to the top for the Tar Heels. Chapel Hill is not used to being the underdogs, but five season losses definitely put them in the unfamiliar position.
"We had lost five games so that made our season awful according to North Carolina standards," Daly said.
If the Tar Heels lost their championship match it would be the worst season in team history. Not trying to leave that legacy behind, the women started chipping their way through the NCAA bracket. One at a time, the team picked off Redford, Illinois, Baylor and BYU until it was just North Carolina and Penn State standing.
Before the Tar Heels took the field for the championship match Dec. 2, the women met in the locker room. They came together and decided to win not just to prove the naysayers wrong, but to send the seniors out on a good note. Especially seniors like Daly, who gave her heart and soul to the team the past four seasons. -
Daly lost her starting spot last season to a shoulder injury. Once you lose a starting spot in a program like Chapel Hill, chances of regaining it are slim. She never made it back to starting status, but Daly contributed more than most starters ever do, coach Anson Dorrance said.
"What's really cool about Hannah is her excellence was not just in athletics, but in the way she lives her life and treats people around her," Dorrance said. "Her contribution was she represented us in everything she did on the field and off the field. She was just an incredible representation of the best we have here."
Daly didn't go out a starter, but she had played an equally important role in building the championship team. There was no way Daly wasn't going in the game, Dorrance said.
"We put her out there just to thank her for an incredible three and a half years with us. She earned the right to play in that game because of her contributions and she left the field as a national champion," Dorrance said.
A national championship and four years among soccer's best - not bad for a kid from a ski town.
"I've been reflecting a lot on just how crazy it was that I got recruited out of Tahoe, which is not a soccer town," Daly said. "It's a soccer desert. Everyone in town either skis or snowboards."
Daly didn't just get recruited anywhere. Chapel Hill wanted her.
Just how deep does the Chapel Hill soccer legacy run?
Well aside from Chapel Hill's 22 national championships, the Tar Heels are pretty much an Olympic feeder team. Until 2012, the North Carolina players accounted for about 40 percent of the Olympic team. The Tar Heels turned out the likes of Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Cindy Parlow.
Daly's name is now among them, but it's her character that's more impressive than any of those soccer stats.
"She was just a wonderful goalkeeper, but honestly an even better kid," Dorrance said.
Daly won the team's highest honor last year, the Kelly Muldoon Award, which is given to the player with the best character. The recipient is chosen by teammates and must exemplify 12 core values. Daly fit the bill.
Dorrance has coached the best woman soccer players in the history of the sport, and Daly stands out.
"She was just this powerful life force. She's an amazing example for all of us," Dorrance said.
Speaking of examples, Daly elected to graduate in December this year, half a year early, to free up her scholarship money for the incoming soccer class. Doing this meant loading herself with extra spring, summer and fall hours, but Daly did it for the future of the team.
She completed her degree in three and a half years and maintained her full commitment to her soccer team.
"That's the sort of person she is. She would just give you the shirt off her back," Dorrance said. "Most players and parents are so possessive of their scholarship money, and here's a kid that bends over backwards for her team and her program.
"Honestly, with that scholarship money we were able to bring in a freshman class that is absolutely extraordinary."
Now that she's graduated, Daly is planning on using her soccer skills for missionary work around the world. She's ready for the next adventure, but won't forget what Chapel Hill gave her.
"Sometimes I sit back and think this is surreal. I've played soccer my entire life and now this is the way I get to end it, at the top level." Daly said. "Soccer's been amazing, but I'm excited for the new chapter. Maybe I'll stop wearing sweatpants every day and start wearing normal people clothing."