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The Daily Tar Heel

Midseason outlook: UNC women's soccer still title contenders, despite back-to-back losses

UNC women's soccer head coach Anson Dorrance looks on during his team's 2-0 win over Ohio State on Aug. 19 at Finley Fields South. The victory was his 1,000th in a decorated career.

UNC women's soccer head coach Anson Dorrance looks on during his team's 2-0 win over Ohio State on Aug. 19 at Finley Fields South. The victory was his 1,000th in a decorated career.

It’s been six years since the the most dominant program in college sports history won an NCAA Championship. 

The 2018 campaign is giving the North Carolina women's soccer team reason to believe it can end that drought. Here are three takeaways from the first half of the season.

Tough Schedule

North Carolina (6-2-1, 1-0 ACC) just played a grueling road trip which included back-to-back-to-back games against top-10 teams. The results of the three-game swing are about as good as any team could expect. 

The Tar Heels' trip began with a 1-0 loss to No. 6 Santa Clara, in which North Carolina actually did score a late goal that would have tied the game, but that goal was called back after an offsides penalty. 

The road didn't get any easier for the Tar Heels, who managed to go 1-1 against the two top-ranked teams in the country. UNC lost, 2-1, to No. 1 Stanford in overtime, but bounced back for a 1-0 win against then-No. 2 Florida State in Tallahassee.  Following the loss, FSU dropped to No. 7 in the rankings. 

With the victory over the Seminoles, UNC began its conference schedule. Though the ACC is yet again extremely competitive, North Carolina will avoid matchups with No. 4 Virginia, No. 12 Duke and No. 16 N.C. State in the regular season, but those foes could be lurking in the conference tournament.

The relatively easy conference slate will allow the Tar Heels to rack up wins and put them in position to earn a top seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Forward (1) Madison Schultz dribbles past midfielder (30) Ryley Bugay during Sunday's game against Marquette.

Goalie Battle

In only one of UNC's first nine games has starting goalie Samantha Leshnak played the whole contest. She has been splitting time with first-year and two-sport star Claudia Dickey. 

So far, the split-goalie system has worked well for the Tar Heels. Leshnak starts the matches, and Dickey is subbed in for the second half. UNC has five shutouts and has only conceded more than one goal a single time this season, against Stanford in overtime.

Dickey, who was a top-40 basketball recruit in the country, according to All-Star Girls Report, is at North Carolina on a full basketball scholarship. Her best performance on the soccer field came against Texas, in which she played a career-high 65 minutes and recorded four saves in an overtime draw.

As the season progresses, Dickey's obligations with the basketball team will be a concern. The NCAA women's soccer tournament begins Nov. 9, three days after UNC women's basketball plays its first game of the season. 

Leshnak, a senior,  has started every game for North Carolina this season. This season, Leshnak has saved 87.5 per cent of the shots attempts she has faced. She recorded a career high five saves in her half against Central Florida.

After making four saves against Stanford, Leshnak earned a full 90 minutes in the win over Florida State. 


UNC celebrates after scoring a goal during its 3-1 win over Illinois on Aug. 16 in Chapel Hill.

Trouble Finishing

North Carolina has outshot its opponents by a combined 91 attempts this season. Yet, for six of its games, including two losses and a draw, the final score has come down to a difference of one goal.

That lack of finishing ability hurt the team in a draw against Texas and a loss to Santa Clara. Against the Longhorns, UNC held a 20-9 shot advantage, but the goalposts were the enemy. 

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The Tar Heels outshot Santa Clara 18-7, including 8-3 in shots on goal, but still lost by one. If North Carolina had been a little more accurate, it could easily have two more ranked wins on its resume.

Even against Marquette, a game in which UNC scored four goals, it took 26 total shots and 12 on goal to get there. It was a similar story against Providence, when the Tar Heels ripped 19 shots but only found the back of the net once. 

Though a serious concern, this problem is a good one to have. North Carolina is creating an abundance of chances, and eventually all of those Tar Heel shots should lead to more goals.

@holtmckeithan 

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com