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Monday March 20th

'I can't take her off the field': Alessia Russo leads UNC toward clinching ACC

UNC Sophomore Forward Alessia Russo (19) dribbles past Freshman Louisville Defender Sarah Hernandez during Saturday's game against Louisville at WakeMed Soccer Park. UNC won 5-1
Buy Photos UNC Sophomore Forward Alessia Russo (19) dribbles past Freshman Louisville Defender Sarah Hernandez during Saturday's game against Louisville at WakeMed Soccer Park. UNC won 5-1

CARY — On Thursday, Alessia Russo continued her fiery hot streak for the No. 3 North Carolina women’s soccer team.

Scoring UNC’s (13-2-1, 8-0-0 ACC) lone goal for the day against No. 11 Boston College (13-2-1, 5-2-1 ACC), Russo’s team-leading sixth goal of the season was good enough for the Tar Heels to escape WakeMed Soccer Park on Thursday afternoon with a 1-0 victory. 

The game-winning sequence occurred quite early on the match. 

In the sixth minute of action, Russo showcased remarkable instinct — taking advantage of a badly placed goal kick from opposing goalkeeper Alexis Bryant. During the ensuing play, Russo intercepted the ball, outmatched the chasing defender, and finished with style as her shot grazed the back of the net. 

“She’s just world class — even above and beyond the collegiate game,” UNC head coach Anson Dorrance said. “She’s on top of the world. She’s improving through every season. She’s a fantastic center forward and she’s proving that again today by scoring such a critical goal, so we absolutely love her.”

With another win under its belt, UNC is a step closer to the program’s first outright ACC regular season championship since 2010, and Russo is a major reason for the Tar Heels’ success. Now with six goals in the last seven games, Russo is playing her best soccer of the season at the right time. With one more win, she and the team will clinch the conference outright. 

For a long stretch against the Eagles, Russo appeared to be destined to add another goal to her total. Later in the first half, another opportunity similar to the first one presented itself for the sophomore from England as she found herself in a one-on-one situation with Bryant. 

Only this time, Russo’s shot soared just slightly to the right of the goal. Russo ended the game shooting seven times (three on frame). She’ll be the first one to admit she could've done more with all those chances. 

“I should’ve had more (goals) today,” Russo said. “I mean as a forward, it’s your job to create and score chances. I should’ve taken my chances better, but it’s always nice when they come and to score off them. We build as a forward line to create and score — that’s what we’re all about. So when the chances come in games, it’s just about finishing.”

Dorrance knows how integral Russo is to this year’s team. After scoring her first goal of the season against Pittsburgh in September, UNC has won eight straight games. Dorrance said her play has been the reason for that.

“I can’t take her off the field,” Dorrance said. “We play a pressing game and with a pressing game, you've got to take kids off the field; but we can’t take her off the field. We rested her for like eight minutes in the first half. For the entire second half, we rode her like a mule, and she responded. I mean she never quit. I just have huge respect for where she is, but also where she’s going.”

Russo has been elevating her game to the next level recently — something she expected to learn from Dorrance when she chose to play under his program in Chapel Hill. 

“I mean that’s one of the reasons that I came here to play under Anson,” Russo said. “When I was a recruit coming here, I wanted to play for top coaches and Anson knows how to win, so that’s one of the reasons that I’m here.” 


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