North Carolina commanded a No. 3 national ranking and an undefeated 4-0-1 record coming into Sunday, before taking on Marquette.
But if there was one thing the team could be criticized for, it was its finishing touch.
The Tar Heels had scored just one goal in each of the previous three matches — on 20, 16 and 19 shots, respectively. Each time, that one goal had been enough to stave off defeat, if not earn a victory. Still, head coach Anson Dorrance expected more.
The Tar Heels pounded the goal early on Sunday afternoon, but Marquette goalkeeper Maddy Henry kept fighting away dangerous opportunities.
Twenty five minutes and 16 seconds into the game, Dorrance substituted six players onto the field. Thirteen seconds later, the Tar Heels finally broke through.
“Of course, my whole staff is joking about brilliant coaching and all the other cliches that come with a substitution pattern,” Dorrance said. “Yeah, we were gonna do that pregame, honestly. That was preordained.”
The difference for the team, then, came from the level of intensity.
“They just took the game over,” Dorrance said. “They went in like they were shot out of a cannon and just played some great ball.”
Right after the flurry of subs, senior defender Julia Ashley fed the ball to junior Bridgette Andrzejewski at the right side of the box. Andrzejewski turned the ball back across the frame to the feet of fellow junior Zoe Redei, who drove home the goal from point blank range.
Less than 10 minutes later, Sydney Spruill clipped a ball into the air at the top of the box. It came down at Redei’s feet again, and she quickly gathered it before burying a strike high and left, out of reach of Henry for her first career brace.
“We've been doing a lot of finishing the last couple practices,” Redei said. “And Anson has just been really harping on us to at least hit it on frame, because we've been hitting it all over the place. So he's just like, ‘If you're gonna hit it, make sure you hit it on frame.’ So that was my main focus every time I shot.”
Just 1:28 after Redei’s second goal, sophomore defender Lotte Wubben-Moy sent a cross flying toward the box. Ashley found the ball with her head, hitting it to the back of the net to put UNC up 3-0.
“During our pregame talk today, we from the start talked about how we wanted to get at least three goals in the first half,” Ashley said. “When the reserves came in there was like a new fire that came out. And I just tried to get on the end of it.”
The senior defender has now scored in back-to-back games, including the game winner against Providence. On top of anchoring the defense to its third straight clean sheet, Dorrance credited Ashley with being a spark on both sides of the field.
“Talk about a coach's dream,” Dorrance said. “You get every ounce of effort out of that young woman in every single practice and every game… I mean, how does your right back beat everyone to the ball? And today she scored another magnificent goal. So I want to credit her.”
The trend of well-timed substitutions and well-struck finishing touches continued in the second half. Seventy minutes and 54 seconds into the game, junior Madison Schultz subbed in to play. Twenty-six seconds later, Morgan Goff found her after a throw in, and Schultz booted it past the Marquette defensive line into the goal for UNC’s season-high fourth goal of the game.
“The consistent issue that we saw in all of the games until today's was, this is a very good team that creates chances but until today couldn’t finish them,” Dorrance said. “Well we checked that box today and lets hope this is something that continues for the rest of our season.”
As UNC heads to the West Coast to take on back-to-back top-10 opponents, the players and coaches talked about how their depth will be important in setting them up to win.
With a finishing touch like they had on Sunday, the Tar Heels like their odds of making the best of that setup.
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