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The Daily Tar Heel

Dixon returns to full form, strikes game winner

In the postseason, striker Alex Dixon has found his confidence, his scoring touch and the back of the net.

The only thing that has yet to be recovered is his signature No. 3 jersey, which went missing during the regular season.

“Someone either stole it,” he said with a laugh, “or I lost it.”

But with three of the team’s five postseason goals to his name  — and No. 17 jersey — Dixon has embraced the change.

As for the sophomore’s subsequent success, coach Elmar Bolowich said he expected it all along.

“With a striker, sometimes you have games where you have a stretch of six, seven games where nothing happens,” he said.

“I think that’s what happened to Alex. He was off his rhythm, and he struggled a little bit. He had some injuries where he wasn’t 100 percent, but he still played. Lately, he’s recovered some and found his confidence. Now he’s hitting his stride.”

He couldn’t have found a better time.

Scoring in his third consecutive game, Dixon registered North Carolina’s game-winning goal to secure UNC’s berth to the College Cup in a 2-1 win over Drake on Friday. It was his second game-winning goal of the NCAA tournament and his eighth goal of the season. Six of those eight scores have come in the last seven games.

Initially, the Tar Heels failed to capitalize on shots, even though they received ample opportunities in front of the net in the first half and outshot the Bulldogs by a 7-1 margin.

“We just couldn’t get the goals in the first half when we had the chances to do so,” Bolowich said. “But our goal was, in the first 15 minutes coming out of halftime, to score.”

The usual suspect delivered.

With 35:12 remaining in the half, sophomore Kirk Urso struck first. Just three minutes later, Dixon used his signature speed to race up the field and split the defense for a breakaway shot from 18 yards out.

The team’s second-leading scorer punctuated the eventual game-winner with a backflip — another move becoming a regular in the postseason. It also seemed to signal a return from the lingering injuries Dixon battled earlier the season.

Despite his injuries, Dixon played in 20 games and made 19 starts.

“The trainers have done a good job with me,” he said. “I’ve been in the entire season. Being healthy, I gotta keep it going and hopefully I won’t break down. But this is definitely the best I’ve felt all year.”

Dixon’s old jersey last made an appearance during his hat trick performance against Stetson on Oct. 28.

The game marked what Bolowich called the breakout he had been waiting to see. Dixon notched his first collegiate career hat trick in the 7-0 regular season win.

The momentum has carried. In the second round of the NCAA tournament, the sophomore added a late goal to extend North Carolina’s 2-0 victory against Brown. In the subsequent match against Indiana, Dixon scored the game-winner with a 28th minute strike to secure the 1-0 win against the Hoosiers.

With North Carolina heading to its second consecutive College Cup, Dixon has memories — and a streak — he’d like to extend with No. 17.

“I’m going to keep it now,” he said. “It’s been working out.”

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