After struggling early in games during the latter half of the 2015 season, the North Carolina women's soccer team got off to a hot start and never looked back against UNC-Charlotte on Sunday at Fetzer Field, winning 3-0 and moving to 2-0 on the year.
In their first game of the season on Friday, the No. 9 Tar Heels struggled to keep possession and create chances in the opening 45 minutes. But in an effort to combat those offensive woes, Coach Anson Dorrance had his team open Sunday's match in a high press — quickly forcing the 49ers into bad decisions and turnovers.
North Carolina capitalized on those mistakes from the outset.
After a UNC corner kick in the seventh minute, a failed clear attempt by UNC-Charlotte led to an eventual tap-in goal from redshirt senior defender Hanna Gardner to give the Tar Heels an early lead.
North Carolina controlled the remaining 38 minutes of the first half, creating several more chances and limiting UNC-Charlotte's attempts at goal.
And while North Carolina's youth might have hindered its ability to finish at the net in the second half, the team's defense stifled the 49ers' attack and allowed just two shots in the final period.
UNC eventually broke through in the 80th minute with a goal courtesy of first-year Zoe Redei. Two and a half minutes later, the Tar Heels extended their lead on a penalty kick goal by senior Cameron Castleberry, putting the game even further out of reach.
Who stood out?
In just her second game since the 2014 season, defender Maggie Bill shined as a cleanup defender on UNC's back line.
Bill, a two-sport athlete, redshirted a year ago and missed a full season of both soccer and lacrosse. But she didn't show any signs of rust Sunday, as she consistently handled pressure from UNC-Charlotte's forwards and made smart plays on the defensive end.
On the offensive end, Redei stood out as a striking threat — though it took her almost 80 minutes to do so.
As the second half wore on, UNC began to send long passes toward the speedy first-year forward, who performed well both with her back to the goal and off the dribble.
Redei's goal in the 80th minute was a flash of something UNC hopes can continue throughout the season. The ability to hit the ball solidly on the volley and finish over the keeper is a skill that should help her stay in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.
When was it decided?
With the defense holding strong, Redei's goal in the 80th minute put the game on ice for the Tar Heels. UNC-Charlotte only had a few real chances at a goal in the final minutes, and the prospect of making up a two-goal deficit was too much to ask from the 49ers.
Why does it matter?
Coming into the season, a big question for UNC was how would it score goals. The Tar Heels lost two of its top-four scorers from a season ago to graduation, and the other two are redshirting the 2016 season.
While North Carolina hasn't found a surefire answer yet, Sunday's game at least showed a little promise for UNC's attack. The team was able to start fast and maintain an offensive intensity throughout the majority of the game.
Several players — some old and some new — helped create chances Sunday afternoon. And while the team didn't put up gaudy numbers like they did early during this past season, the Tar Heels doesn't seem as lost as they perhaps should be.
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels will look to continue their perfect start when they travel to Fort Meyers, Fla. to take on Florida Gulf Coast at 7 p.m. on Friday.
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