Since his freshman year when he earned all-ACC tournament honors, Stokes has played in every North Carolina soccer game. His high-caliber defensive play is so standard that Tar Heels coach Elmar Bolowich doesnt even write his name on the roster in the locker room Stokes is a given.
And his facial expression rarely shows any emotion except cold-hard intensity and determination.
But with under a minute remaining in the NCAA mens soccer championship and the Tar Heels leading 2-0, Stokes couldnt hold back the huge grin forming on his face.
There was much to smile about as the battle-weary Tar Heels (21-4) claimed their first national soccer championship against five-time champion Indiana Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
The victory was the Tar Heels first in regulation in their final four games. It also avenged a 1-0 loss to Indiana in the quarterfinals last year when North Carolina was expected to win it all.
“It was a great feeling,” said Stokes, who assisted Matt Crawfords game tying goal against Stanford in the semifinals to help put the Tar Heels in the championship game. “I think last year we learned a lot from the loss and that experience helped us out this year.”
The Tar Heels scored first in the 12th minute on a header from six yards out by junior Ryan Kneipper, beating Hoosiers goalkeeper Colin Rodgers.
Senior Danny Jackson sealed the game in the 75th minute with a penalty kick in the upper left corner of the net past a diving Rodgers. North Carolina was awarded the kick after Indianas Josh Rife pulled down Marcus Story in the box.
In the second half, Stokes, who was named defensive player of the tournament, and senior co-captain Chris Leitch held Indiana to only one shot despite the Hoosiers dominating possession advantage.
For most of the game Stokes covered Indianas all-American midfielder Pat Noonan man-on-man, coming out as far as midfield to shadow the Hoosiers leading scorer. Stokes held Noonan, who is the frontrunner for national player of the year honors, to only two shots on three scoring chances.
“I just worked to contain him because it is impossible to shut down great players like Pat,” Stokes said.