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The Daily Tar Heel

Madison Schultz scores another game winner for UNC women's soccer

First year Madison Schultz (1) dribbles the ball downfield Saturday against Liberty. 

First year Madison Schultz (1) dribbles the ball downfield Saturday against Liberty. 

When the North Carolina women’s soccer team was locked in a battle with a tough Florida State team on Oct. 27, it was the first-year forward’s poke in off a rebound that gave the Tar Heels a 1-0 win. Three days later against Virginia in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, she stole the ball from the Cavalier keeper and finished the first goal in UNC’s 3-0 victory.

Schultz came through once more Saturday, when North Carolina took down Liberty 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And her tally, though it might seem irrelevant to the final outcome, helped the Tar Heels overcome a shaky start against the Flames.

“She doesn’t mess around,” Coach Anson Dorrance said.

Liberty came out of the gates with an upset in mind, relentlessly pressing UNC’s back line. The strategy worked, as the Flames forced a bevy of turnovers in the early going.

North Carolina started to turn things around midway through the second half, but couldn’t string together enough passes to create a true scoring chance.

That changed in the 41st minute. After a brilliant play by junior Alex Kimball on the near side to keep the ball in play, the Tar Heels switched the field and gave the ball to junior Megan Buckingham on the edge of the box. The midfielder lifted a cross toward the back post, where senior forward Sarah Ashley Firstenberg headed the ball back across goal.

All Schultz had to do was tap it in to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.

“It definitely goes to a lot of just being in the right spot at the right time,” Schultz said. “I was joking around, I was saying, ‘I don’t shoot the ball, nor do I head the ball, but I just poke the ball in the goal.’

“I’ll take what I can get at this point.”

Before the Florida State game, the first-year from Edmonds, Washington, had yet to nab a goal in her collegiate career. Now she has three in the Tar Heels’ last five games.

Schultz’ production has been a microcosm of the North Carolina reserve unit for the latter half of the season. The Tar Heels have relied on a dozen players to carry the attack, and often it’s someone coming off the bench who provides a spark.

“To know that there’s other people on the bench that can, in a second, hop out there and do a fantastic job is motivation as well,” said junior Abby Elinsky. “It’s all out of love, we all support each other and it’s fantastic to see people go out there and make an impact.”

North Carolina’s reliance on its bench has helped the team develop a bulldog mentality. The Tar Heels might not throw the first punch, but they’ll get off the canvas and fire right back.

“The ambition of this team is to first win the fight and then win the game,” Dorrance said. “And I think we can put that team out there to win the fight. And then we’ve got enough skill sets with the rest of our roster to then win the game.”

@jbo_vernon

sports@dailytarheel.com

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