The North Carolina women's soccer team kicks off its 2016 season against Central Florida at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at Fetzer Field. Here's what to expect from the Tar Heels in their opening game and throughout the rest of the season.
How do they play?
Over the past several seasons, Coach Anson Dorrance has implemented a system that has been the bedrock of the Tar Heels' success.
Dorrance often uses a dozen or so substitutes in a game, allowing the team's overall stamina to stay high and giving a large stable of players the chance to play on any given day.
This strategy could prove crucial for North Carolina in 2016 as it eases key players back from injury.
Midfielders Dorian Bailey, Darcy McFarlane, Cameron Castleberry and Joanna Boyles all suffered ACL tears during the latter half of the 2015 season. Boyles will redshirt this upcoming season, but the other three will benefit from the constant relief substitutions can provide.
Who stands out?
Lindsey Harris, redshirt senior goalkeeper: Harris has spent each of the past two seasons splitting time in goal with recent graduate Bryane Heaberlin, but Harris is set to be UNC's primary option in the net in 2016.
Harris gave up an average of 0.69 goals per 90 minutes played a season ago, amassing a record of 6-3-1. While she has never been the top option for North Carolina, Dorrance believes she has the skills to be one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
Zoe Redei, first-year forward: A member of North Carolina's highly-touted 2016 recruiting class, Redei will be thrown into the fire right away.
With junior forward Jessie Scarpa — who is the Tar Heels' top-returning scorer from a season ago — set to redshirt the 2016 season to play with the US U-20 Women's National Team at the U-20 World Cup, Redei could assume a heavy load in her first season at UNC.
Ru Mucherera, sophomore defender: After only playing 242 minutes during the entire 2015 season, Mucherera — a former forward — won the battle for the starting left-back position during fall practices.
The strength of her game is her physical style of play, but she is still a raw prospect at her position. If Mucherera struggles early on, don't be surprised if Dorrance replaces her with redshirt junior Maya Worth, who started in the defensive back four for the majority of the 2015 season.
When is their biggest game?
The Tar Heels lost a pair of one-goal games to Florida State a season ago, the latter of which knocked North Carolina out of the ACC Tournament.
But UNC could get its revenge on the Seminoles on Oct. 27 in its regular-season finale at Fetzer Field. Florida State is ranked No. 1 in the Preseason NSCAA Coaches' Poll and has won three straight ACC titles.
What is their biggest weakness?
Two of UNC's top-four scorers during the 2015 season have graduated, and the other two — Boyles and Scarpa — are set to redshirt the 2016 campaign.
The end result for North Carolina is an offensive attack without many proven options. Of the Tar Heels' projected starters heading into Friday's game, only Bailey and junior forward Megan Buckingham scored multiple goals a season ago.
UNC will have to rely on several young players — namely Redei and first-year midfielder Bridgette Andrzejewski — for production in the attacking third. If they don't live up to expectations, the Tar Heels could struggle to score goals during the 2016 season.
Why could they win it all?
North Carolina is always a threat to win a national title — the team has 22 to its credit — but the Tar Heels could have added incentive to bring home another trophy at the end of the season.
Every player who has played at least four years with the program has won a national championship. But UNC's last NCAA title was in 2012 — putting the streak in jeopardy.
Dorrance has said that he will not put the pressure of the feat on his team, but it will likely hang in the minds of the players — especially the seniors — throughout the season. And it could be the motivation the Tar Heels need.
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