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Wednesday February 1st

Isabel Cox's goal lifts UNC women's soccer over N.C. State

UNC freshman forward Isabel Cox (13)  makes a slide tackle for the ball, stealing from NC State redshirt sophomore defender Lulu Guttenberger (6) in the UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.
Buy Photos UNC freshman forward Isabel Cox (13) makes a slide tackle for the ball, stealing from NC State redshirt sophomore defender Lulu Guttenberger (6) in the UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.

Isabel Cox collected a pass from Lois Joel near the left corner of the penalty box and split two defenders as she dribbled right. She released a right-footed strike that caught the opposing goalkeeper flat-footed before hitting the back of the net.

The first-year forward’s goal in the 52nd minute was the only one of Thursday night’s match, a 1-0 win for the No. 4 North Carolina women’s soccer team over rival N.C. State in Chapel Hill.

In the sequence that led to the game-winner, Cox first found Joel, who kicked the ball back to Cox to execute the give-and-go. 

When Cox scored her third goal of the season, Joel — a junior defender and transfer from West Virginia — earned her sixth assist of the year, a team best. 

“Good players around you make you look good,” Joel said. “So, it’s just a really nice relationship — give them the ball, and they do their thing.” 

There’s no doubt that Cox is one of those players. She’s now tied for second on the team in goals with senior forward Bridgette Andrzejewski and fellow first-year forward Alexis Strickland. 

But head coach Anson Dorrance admits he’s been shocked by Cox’s play through the Tar Heels’ first 10 games.

“She’s a lot better than I thought,” he said. “When we recruited her, we knew she was going to contribute. But if someone had said three months ago, ‘This kid’s going to start for you at the nine,’ I would’ve said, ‘No way.’”

Cox’s first two goals came in blowout wins: a 4-0 win over Portland on Sept. 1 and a 8-0 rout of UNLV on Sept. 8. 

Thursday’s goal came at a time when there was more on the line for UNC, though. 

At halftime, the Tar Heels had outshot the Wolfpack, 11-0, but only put one shot on frame. Junior forward Alessia Russo forced N.C. State goalkeeper Jessica Berlin to make a diving save in the 20th minute, but that was as close as North Carolina had gotten. 

Before Cox stepped up, Russo and sophomore midfielder Brianna Pinto — who are tied with a team-leading six goals apiece — each had three shots. A few came close. None went in. 

Still, Cox didn’t feel any additional pressure to score.

“I don’t think there’s any pressure on Cox,” Dorrance said. “In fact, if you get to know her a bit, you will see that. I don’t think she’s ever gonna have any pressure. She has this wonderful joy of life, which is honestly infectious. And I just think she plays completely free.”

After the match, Cox described the feeling of her teammates rushing at her after the goal as “amazing.” The 5-foot-10 Greensboro native said the energy of the home crowd made her work that much harder, and helped her team fend off the Wolfpack attack for the remaining 38 minutes of the game. 

Though Cox has established herself as one of UNC’s best scorers so far, she knows she can’t slow down if she expects to have more moments like the one she had Thursday night. 

“Every single day, we come to work to get better,” she said. “And there’s always someone right behind you wanting to take your spot. So, you have to keep working.”

Joel mentioned that the Tar Heels can’t always expect only having two shots on goal to work in their favor. But while most teams would lose faith when their offensive leaders can’t find the back of the net, North Carolina has no reason to. 

“Cox’s scoring just gives confidence to everyone,” Joel said. “She’s gonna be a great player. She’s great now, so imagine her with experience.” 

@pupadhyaya_

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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