Slow start, loud finish in UNC women's soccer's second ACC win
CARY — Seventy-seven minutes after kickoff, the overwhelming sound of 100 vuvuzelas erupted across WakeMed Soccer Park, celebrating North Carolina’s go-ahead goal over the Clemson Tigers.
When a shot by sophomore Madison Schultz careened off the cross bar and high above the box, junior Dorian Bailey was there to meet the ball on its way back down, and she headed it into the back of the net for the only goal of the Tar Heels’ 1-0 victory.
"I just saw Maddie dribbling across, and I knew she was going to shoot it," Bailey said. "I was just following the shot and I saw it go up, and I thought, 'This is it.'"
After the slow start to the game, the score woke up the players on the field — as well as the vuvuzelas distributed to UNC fans before the game. While the stats suggested a staggering advantage for the No. 8 Tar Heels (6-2, 2-0 ACC), the matchup with No. 19 Clemson (6-3, 0-2 ACC) started out sleepily.
North Carolina posted twice as many shots and shots on frame as the Tigers, and took seven corners compared to the Tigers’ two. Head coach Anson Dorrance, who is in his 39th year at the helm of the North Carolina women’s soccer program, knows full and well how difficult it can be find a goal.
“Of all the games that are played out there at a high level, this is the most difficult one to score in,” Dorrance said. “And domination doesn't produce a goal. What produces a goal is, to some extent, luck. Because there was a lot of luck involved in the goal we scored.”
And for what had been a quiet night, the stroke of luck kicked off a loud finale.
As the Tigers pressed on the UNC defense, goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak helped anchor the backline and prevent a last-minute equalizer.
“She was magnificent in that last ten minutes when we seemed to be in full panic mode,” Dorrance said of his junior goalkeeper. “I think Sam basically saved us.”
After getting off to a rough start to the season in which the team allowed five goals in the first three games, Leshnak and the defense have steadied. Thursday night marked the Tar Heels' fourth shutout in the past five games, but the scoreless result came down to the wire.
“The last part of the game, it was just what you practice,” Leshnak said. “Plug in the whole time and you're waiting for anything. That's pretty much as a goalkeeper what you are supposed to do. Clean it up.”
The raucous finish included a controversial ending that drew reactions from Clemson fans and players. Leshnak appeared to secure a ball with her hands while outside of the penalty area in the closing seconds of the game, but the move did not draw a whistle from officials.
“Maybe we dodged a bullet there,” Dorrance said of the no-call. “But we certainly deserved to win the game, so that's not in question. We were certainly the better team even though it certainly didn't look like it during the full panic moments of the last ten minutes.”
The start of the game may have been slow — and the end, panicked — but the final result was all that mattered for the Tar Heels as they picked up their second conference win in as many chances this season.
“It's a really difficult game to win,” Dorrance said. “We feel obviously wonderful that right now we are 2-0 in the ACC.”