Rachael Dorwart sprinted, jumped in the air and split two defenders, making contact with the ball using her head.
The ball bounced once and floated just past the reach of the Illinois goalkeeper and into the back of the net, much to the chagrin of the Fighting Illini.
The first-year midfielder had just scored her first career goal as a Tar Heel in the 74th minute of the team’s season-opener. Dorwart put the icing on the cake in No. 6 North Carolina’s 3-1 win against Illinois on Thursday at Finley Fields South. The victory was head coach Anson Dorrance's 999th with the school.
Dorwart flashed the potential Dorrance saw when he pried her away from Duke and Penn State when she was just a high school freshman in 2015.
“The fact that she chose us, I just feel wonderfully lucky and blessed,” Dorrance said. “I knew watching her at a youth level that she was going to be a game changer.”
Dorrance hopes Dorwart can be enough of a game changer to help the Tar Heels win their first national championship since 2012. North Carolina’s blend of young talent and veteran leadership may be just the right recipe to bring the program its 23rd national title.
This was on display Thursday as three different players scored in the second half after UNC trailed 1-0 at the intermission — sophomore defender Brooke Bingham, junior forward Madison Schultz and Dorwart.
Bingham found the back of the net first in the 51st minute. The 5-foot-9 Laurel Springs, N.C. native nailed the equalizer with a header on a corner kick from graduate midfielder Annie Kingman.
“It was a perfect corner from Annie,” Bingham said. “(I just) jumped up and got it. I got over the defender. I didn’t know what to do after the goal, honestly. I was so happy.”
In the 69th minute, senior midfielder Nicole Crutchfield bumped shoulders with an Illinois defender to get control of a loose ball. Crutchfield found Schultz, who drilled a one-touch shot with her right foot into the left pocket of the net to give North Carolina its first lead.
Less than five minutes later, Dorwart gave UNC its final margin of victory with a headed goal.
Dorrance said he loved how the team reasserted itself in the second half with a variety of players providing offense.
In particular, the 40th-year coach was excited about the goal from Dorwart. Dorrance sees something in the first-year that he’s only seen in a handful of players throughout his lengthy career.
“She plays with an incredible hunger,” Dorrance said. “We have a lot of talented players that don’t play with her goal-scoring hunger.
“I haven’t seen that kind of hunger since Mia Hamm, Lindsay Tarpley and Robin Confer.”
Though the roster is loaded with talent, Dorrance said he didn’t burden his players this offseason by talking about the tradition and standards of the program. He, instead, wants his team to set its own goals.
Dorwart said she doesn’t think the team feels overly pressured to bring home a national championship, even though she was a part of a five-player recruiting class that ranked No. 3 in the country, according to Top Drawer Soccer.
“We’re just trying to take every game and just do as best we can,” Dorwart said. “So, I don’t think there’s really so much pressure, but we just want to do the best we can this year.”
The Tar Heels will look to carry their momentum into Sunday, when they return to Finley to face No. 23 Ohio State at 4 p.m.