Maycee Bell’s breakdown of her inspired run that defined North Carolina’s win against Clemson didn’t take long. It was simple, really: after cutting off a pass early in the second half Saturday night, she saw space — a lot of space — and decided to just go for it.
So the first-year defender took off. She dribbled through the middle of Dorrance Field with a Clemson defender on her hip. She broke out into a full-on sprint. When her defender started “cheating a little bit,” as Bell put it, to get inside leverage, she stopped on a dime, spun off the defender’s right shoulder and kept her stride until she was fouled from behind.
She’d dribbled about 50 yards in a span of seconds. And on the ensuing 55th-minute set piece, Bridgette Andrzejewski headed in Lotte Wubben-Moy’s free kick for the first goal of the match. It proved to be the game-winner in the No. 3 Tar Heels’ 1-0 win over the No. 8 Tigers.
“It was a tiring run,” Bell said, “but it was worth it in end.”
Such offensive acumen has only added to the resume of Bell, who has already won two ACC Defender of the Week awards for her contributions to a stingy back line that now has 10 shutouts through 12 matches. Outside of a blowout win against UNLV on Sept. 8, in which she on played the first half, she’s been on the field for every minute of North Carolina’s 11-1 start to the 2019 season.
“Those of you guys who are watching her, enjoy it now,” head coach Anson Dorrance said, “because that kid will eventually play for the United States. She's going to be winning gold medals. She’s going to be winning world championships. That is an elite defender.”
Like many of her UNC teammates, Bell has extensive U.S. Women’s National Team experience. During a lengthy club and high school soccer career in Wichita, Kansas, she played for USWNT youth teams, and she’s currently in the U23 National Team pool.
At North Carolina, she’s been starting, literally, from day one. Dorrance has a longtime policy of bringing even the most highly touted first-years off the bench when the women’s soccer team has its first intrasquad scrimmage. Even Mia Hamm, he said, was a reserve at the first practice.
But to avoid the “ridiculous charade” of acting like Bell had something to prove, the coaching staff started her at center back in that first scrimmage. It’s paid dividends.
“I can't believe she's a freshman,” said Andrzejewski, who scored her third game-winning goal of the season Saturday. “Anyone watching the game, you would think she's a senior. She really absorbs everything the coaches teach her.”
Bell couldn’t say enough about her time in Chapel Hill so far. On the field, fellow defender Wubben-Moy has helped her get more comfortable as a communicator. She’s also settled in on offense, logging a career-high three shots against Notre Dame last weekend and two more against Clemson to go along with the 50-yard run that set up the game-winner.
And the high praise from Dorrance, who described Bell as “low maintenance, very humble and an absolute ass-kicker,” made her smile as she stood on the field postgame Saturday night, 12 matches into a college soccer career her coaches and teammates believe will only blossom further.
“It's amazing,” Bell said. “It's been a dream since coming to North Carolina.”
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