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Women's soccer gives Wake Forest second loss in a top-10 battle

North Carolina put in two goals during Sunday’s first half. DTH/Andrew Dye
North Carolina put in two goals during Sunday’s first half. DTH/Andrew Dye

After a 2-1 overtime win against injury-riddled Duke, North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance wondered if his team was going to be able to have the same success against a healthy Wake Forest team.

His concerns were alleviated early Sunday.

The No. 1 Tar Heels (9-0-1) scored early and often in a 4-0 victory against the No. 7 Demon Deacons (8-2-0) Sunday that lifted them to a 2-0 record to open conference play.

“I thought today we came out a lot harder and stronger and then played a lot quicker and faster and then finished some chances,” Dorrance said. “It’s really been kind of lackluster the past three or four games, but today’s game is a measure of where I think we can be, even against good teams.”

Sunday’s first half was a complete reversal from the first half against Duke.

Freshman midfielder Amber Brooks headed the second corner kick of the game to junior midfielder Ali Hawkins for a header that put UNC on the board first in the 12th minute of the game Sunday.

The Tar Heels did not score until the 83rd minute against the Blue Devils.

Hawkins’ header was the first of two Tar Heel goals scored in the first half as they dominated offensively.

The team had 18 shots, compared to eight by Wake Forest, and controlled the ball from the opening whistle.

Hawkins had an assist to go with her goal, and senior defender Whitney Engen had a goal and two assists.

The Tar Heels established a nice rhythm early despite missing starters Tobin Heath and Ashlyn Harris for the second consecutive game due to commitments with the U.S. national team.

Starter Nikki Washington is out indefinitely after tearing her ACL against Louisiana State.

Engen said these absences were not lost on her teammates Thursday.

“Going into the first half of Duke, we were a little tentative,” she said. “We were missing four players that we were used to having start for us. That’s always really difficult because it’s difficult to get a rhythm.

“Today people came in with a mentality that it needed to be done, and everybody stepped up and played their role.”

The performance was a testament to the depth of a team that has endured a grueling schedule and a number of lineup changes to this point, yet remains the top team in the conference and the nation.

The team will get key contributors Heath and Harris back after playing two elite teams shorthanded. Hawkins said getting the starters back will only help.

“It’s going to be huge,” she said. “We’ve picked up our level to see how we can just all meld together and, hopefully get even better than we were at the beginning of the season.”

But while the team expects to benefit from the return of its starters, it will be up to Dorrance to put them in the position to do so.

“With Tobin coming back, I’ve got to sort out, do we put Ali back to holding, do we put Tobin at attacking, do we put Tobin outside and who do we take off the field?” he said.

“Because right now, to be honest, the reserves have played so well they all deserve an opportunity for significant minutes.”

But that concern is a nice one to have compared with the ones he had entering Sunday’s game.

“We’re having a wonderful collection of positive problems now.”

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