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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's soccer player shines in second start of the year

Megan Buckingham (19) chases down the ball Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels defeated Liberty 3-0.
Megan Buckingham (19) chases down the ball Friday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels defeated Liberty 3-0.

Just a few minutes earlier, the Tar Heels wrapped up a 3-0 victory against Liberty in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Buckingham made her second start of the year but played as if she had been in the lineup all along.

In a second half that saw UNC get out in front and pull away from the Flames, the midfielder from Novi, Mich., contributed a goal and an assist, prompting Dorrance to praise her after the match.

“(This is) the best game you have ever played in a Tar Heel uniform,” Dorrance said. “We love the way you’re playing, but it wasn’t like it was an accident — you had a phenomenal week. You were one of the best players in practice all week.”

When Buckingham took the field at the beginning of the game Friday, it was clear she was moving at a different speed than every other player on the pitch. On several occasions, the sophomore looked more like a track star than a soccer player, weaving between defenders and creating scoring chances in Liberty’s defensive third.

With the Tar Heels up 1-0 in the 62nd minute and hungry for another goal, sophomore forward Jessie Scarpa hit a low cross toward the Flames’ box. After senior midfielder Katie Bowen let the ball roll between her legs, Buckingham put up a high, bending shot that tucked into the upper right corner of the goal, doubling the Tar Heels’ lead.

“Basically, the only thing that was going through my mind was, ‘Keep this on frame or you’ll be embarrassed,’” Buckingham said.

Just more than 20 minutes later, the sophomore served a cross of her own toward the feet of redshirt senior Alexa Newfield, who calmly converted the chance past the Liberty goalkeeper to push the lead to 3-0.

“She attacked, she defended, she was a playmaker and it doesn’t get any better than that,” Dorrance said. “There wasn’t an aspect of her game that she didn’t play exceptionally well.”

Earlier in the week, North Carolina lost midfielders Joanna Boyles and Cameron Castleberry to season-ending ACL injuries. These were the third and fourth midfielders who have gone down with knee injuries for UNC this season.

But the Tar Heels are not ready to call it a season just yet. With four players out for the tournament, Bowen said the team’s other midfielders will have to step up.

“Losing them was huge for us, but you can only stay down for so long because our season has to continue,” she said.

“(Friday’s win) just really kind of took us having to step up, play more minutes. We knew that we were more than capable.”

And as North Carolina looks toward the rest of the tournament, it hopes players like Buckingham can continue to lead the team to victory.

@jbo_vernon

sports@dailytarheel.com

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