Two of the Tar Heels’ top-four scorers — Alexa Newfield and Summer Green — graduated after the 2015 season. And by the end of the summer, UNC learned its other two top scorers, Jessie Scarpa and Joanna Boyles, would redshirt the 2016 season.
The Tar Heels were left with an offensive desert. The team lost 75 percent of its goals from a season ago, and no one else had tallied more than three in 2015.
As UNC prepared for its first two games this past weekend, the big question still remained. But by the end, the Tar Heels had two wins under their belt — and more than a few answers.
“A lot of little things are falling into place for us ... I couldn’t be happier right now,” Coach Anson Dorrance said after Sunday’s 3-0 win over UNC-Charlotte.
UNC didn’t start the year as explosively as it did in 2015, but Dorrance pointed to a number of positives from the opening weekend, especially the performance of his first-year players.
Bridgette Andrzejewski was the first new Tar Heel to impress in UNC’s opening night victory against Central Florida. While the winger was kept off the stat sheet, her ability to beat players one-on-one helped create chances.
The real first-year showcase came Sunday. Andrzejewski showed off her athletic ability. Morgan Goff found space in the box. Madison Schultz delivered pinpoint passes. And Zoe Redei, the only first-year player to start both games on the weekend, scored her first career goal to seal the game.
There were some hiccups, but the group settled in as the games progressed.
“You’re coming in as a freshman to a really great program ... I always looked up to the players here, so you’re obviously very nervous,” Redei said. “I think as every game goes on, we improve — us freshmen — and we get a better connection with the team.”
But for all the hubbub the first-year players created, North Carolina’s veterans deserve some credit for the opening weekend success.
In Friday’s win, two veterans — senior Sarah Ashley Firstenberg and junior Alex Kimball — took advantage of miscues by the Knights’ defense to come up with the game’s only two goals. And on Sunday, redshirt senior Hanna Gardner did the same, scoring the team’s opening goal in the seventh minute for her first goal since 2012.
North Carolina should see its offense improve as the season progresses and the team eases back a trio of midfielders — Dorian Bailey, Darcy McFarlane and Cameron Castleberry — who are still recovering from ACL tears.
“It’s just going to bring even more depth for us,” Gardner said. “So we’re going to get people off the bench and keep our legs fresh and try to keep running and keep the other team under as much pressure as we can.”
Maybe the future isn’t so bleak for UNC’s attack. The team came into the weekend looking for an answer to its goal-scoring conundrum and found more than one. And it could find a few more as the season progresses.