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Monday March 20th

UNC women's soccer prepares for a West Coast gauntlet against two ranked opponents

Forward (15) Zoe Redei dribbles down the field during Sunday's game at Koskinen Stadium.
Buy Photos Forward (15) Zoe Redei dribbles down the field during Sunday's game at Koskinen Stadium.

The No. 2 North Carolina women's soccer team is about to get a better idea of just how good it really is.

Undefeated through six games, the Tar Heels are traveling to the other side of the country for their toughest challenge of the season so far against No. 12 Santa Clara. Then, less than 48 hours later, they ramp it up again, taking on No. 1 Stanford.

“We are going to fly all the way out there, that’s going to be a challenge in itself,” head coach Anson Dorrance said on Sunday. “And then we are going to match up with two teams that are among the best in the country.”

The trip will be a gauntlet, but Dorrance is adamant about testing his team early in the season. He has made it a habit to do so throughout his career, and his 22 national titles as a head coach are evidence of the strategy’s merits.

“That's preordained in every single season we've scheduled,” Dorrance said. “We not only play a very tough schedule in the ACC, as all the ACC schools do, but what we also try to do is to play a very tough non-conference schedule. And those are two of the toughest teams on that non-conference schedule so this will be a real challenge for this team.”

While preparing for its West Coast voyage, the team had to pass through a season-long test to see who would make the trip. Dorrance takes a limited number of players to California, and players had to prove themselves in games and at practice to warrant a spot.

A hallmark of the North Carolina program is its high intensity practices, and leading up to the road trip the players knew what was at stake.

Junior Zoe Redei was told at halftime of the Tar Heels’ game on Sunday that she had booked her seat to California. Redei had two goals in the first half in her second game back from injury, after totaling five goals in her first two seasons. She credited the intensity of the practice for putting her in a position to prove herself Sunday.

“We just push ourselves because once you mess up then you have someone to replace you, just because our depth is very deep,” Redei said. “So I think that really pushes us in practice. Like if we're not stepping up, somebody is going to take your place. Also it really pushes you to try your best in practice and that shows in the game.”

North Carolina’s depth will certainly be one of its biggest strengths for the weekend, even with a more limited roster than it has had in its first six competitions. The travel and the quick turnaround between games will ensure that each player who makes the trip will get a chance to show their worth.

“I think honestly, it's going to take all of us to get the wins out there,” senior defender Julia Ashley said. “We are so deep, and playing time is going to be tough for everyone right now. I think we are just going to need our whole team out there.”

Dorrance hopes that, above anything, the weekend can be a testing ground for how the team will perform further down the road. At such an early juncture in the season, there is still time for adjustments. The head coach will look for the stiff competition to shine a light on the team’s biggest weaknesses.

“We want to know where we have problems,” Dorrance said. “Both teams will expose us in very positive ways, and we need that. I don't want to be exposed in the NCAA tournament and then eliminated.”

@James_Tatter | @DTHsports

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