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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina women's soccer team set for more success in 2017

The Tar Heels lost to top-seeded West Virginia in the 2016 Final Four

Women's Soccer post-Clemson
The North Carolina women's soccer team walks off the field in joy after defeating Clemson, 1-0, in the third round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Every year, the statistics will still amaze you.

Since its 1979 conception, the North Carolina women’s soccer team has played in 912 games and won over 90 percent of them — 809, to be exact. Under head coach Anson Dorrance, the Tar Heels have appeared in every single NCAA Tournament ever played and won over 90 percent of those games, too.

The best number — the one that always has and always will vault the program into conversation for one of the greatest college dynasties ever — is 22. That’s how many titles UNC has racked up in its existence. The trophies litter Dorrance’s office.

Last year, the Tar Heels were a game away from playing for No. 23. Although North Carolina is losing five starters from the 2016 team that lost 1-0 to West Virginia in the Final Four, expectations for this season are high as usual. Here are three major storylines for the 2017 Tar Heels, who begin their season on Friday at 6 p.m. versus Duke.

Home-field disadvantage?

UNC will take a one-year vacation from its long-time home, Fetzer Field, as a whole chunk of the school’s athletic facilities undergo a year of major construction.

After going 10-1 in home games last season, UNC will host all five of its 2017 home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. The cut-down from 11 to five is a logistical move. Will it hurt the team?

According to Dorrance’s all-time record, it won’t. His teams have won 91.6 percent of their home games and 90.1 percent of their road and neutral site games. But whatever Fetzer Field offered in 2016 — be it fan support, familiarity or just plain comfort — was much more helpful than other venues, where North Carolina went 5-2-3.

One of UNC’s best stretches came at home during the NCAA Tournament, when it shut out Liberty, Kansas and third-seeded Clemson over a three-game slate to advance to the semifinals.The average attendance at those games was over 1,500.

Whether WakeMed Soccer Park will act as a home site, neutral site or even a road site has yet to be determined. No matter what happens, it’ll be an intriguing move for the team to adjust to.

More offense needed

Here’s a not-so-great statistic for a team that has many — among all Division I schools, UNC’s 1.64 goals per game average ranked 97th.

The team’s top-notch defense made up for that with a dominant year. It allowed just .60 goals per contest, good for 13th in the country. Senior goalie Lindsey Harris also broke the school record for saves in a year with 96.

A combination of Jessie Scarpa and Bridgette Andrzejewski may be the key to get a more-than-capable offense back up and running. Scarpa’s reasoning for missing 2016 speaks to her talent more than anything else. She played on the U.S. U20 National Team in the FIFA World Cup, appearing in all six matches and logging one assist.

Now, Scarpa returns to Chapel Hill as a redshirt junior with national experience to her name. After a break-out sophomore season with eight goals and eight assists, Scarpa will be one of UNC’s go-to scorers. Starting alongside her will be Andrzejewski, who led the Tar Heels with nine goals as a true first-year.

Preseason predictions

With the release of ACC and national preseason polls, it’s clear the rest of the soccer world is taking notice of North Carolina, too.

The conference’s 14 head coaches picked UNC to finish second behind 2016 ACC champion Florida State, and Scarpa and Andrzejewski were selected to the Preseason All-ACC First-Team.

In the first national coaches poll, the Tar Heels came in at No. 6 overall. They were the top ACC school in the poll, which is noteworthy when you consider that six teams appeared among the top 25.

Andrzejewski, the 2016 ACC Freshman of the Year, also appeared on the MAC Hermann Trophy Watch List, which honors the best player in women’s soccer. Her teammate Scarpa was added to TopDrawerSoccer.com’s preseason Best XI team.

@chapelfowler

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