CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance considers himself lucky. Having just finished his 37th season with the Tar Heel women and being a former national team coach, Dorrance has coached some of soccer’s elite.
But, after Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Florida State in the College Cup final, Dorrance sang the praises of fullback Julia Ashley like he has few others
“Julia Ashley is the fittest player I’ve ever coached, including my eight-year run with the U.S. national team,” Dorrance said. “I would guess, right now, she might be the fittest female soccer player in the world.”
Dorrance has coached national team phenoms like Tobin Heath and Mia Hamm.
Ashley’s storied Tar Heel career came to a disappointing close Sunday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. UNC, having been shut out just once all year, couldn’t beat one-time East Carolina goalkeeper Caroline Jeffers.
Ashley, like she has so many times over the past four years, played all 90 minutes of the game. She was a steady presence on the right end of UNC’s back line and she pushed the offense forward whenever the opportunity presented itself.
And now, the four-year starting right back looks to the future. Ashley may not be quite sure where soccer will take her next. Dorrance, on the other hand, had a message for National Women’s Soccer League teams.
“I definitely will enter the (NWSL) draft. I’d love to play here, for sure,” Ashley said of her future, adding that there is naturally some uncertainty.
Dorrance isn’t nearly as uncertain about Ashley’s future.
“She’s going to get drafted in the top five,” he said. “The team that’s wise enough to draft her, I predict she’ll end up starting in the NWSL in her (first) season, which is rare these days for a kid coming out of college. If the right team drafts her, she’ll be on the field as a starter.”
The NWSL College Draft is set for Jan. 10. There are four rounds with nine picks in each. Sky Blue FC, the team of Ashley’s native New Jersey, holds the second and third picks in the first round. Defending champion North Carolina Courage holds the fifth selection in the first round.
In her freshman season in 2015, Ashley earned the starting role at right back. She replaced another four-year starter in Satara Murray. Ashley assisted on the first goal of the season her freshman year, and she never looked back.
Ashley ranked second among all Tar Heels in terms of minutes played her freshman and sophomore years. She was named a team captain as a junior. She also scored her first goal that season when she got her head on a free kick in a game against Virginia Tech. Her last was the goal to send UNC to Sunday’s title game.
The Tar Heels’ ironman was also named to the U.S. U23 national team earlier this year.
There’s no telling where soccer will take Ashley after UNC, but Dorrance has good reason to think that she could play just about anywhere she’d like.