CARY, N.C. — Maycee Bell had been hearing it since December.
Though the first-year defender wasn’t officially a Tar Heel at the time, she understood the importance of the soccer team’s self-dubbed ‘revenge tour’. After coming up short last year against Florida State in both the ACC Championship game and the NCAA title game, one word has been on the team's mind: revenge.
When her older teammates let her know of the devastating losses, Bell, the ACC Freshman of the Year, made it clear that she was already well-aware.
“I was at the championship game when we lost,” Bell said. “I wasn’t on the team, but I just felt every emotion that they felt … They just told me that you can’t take any game for granted, and that we have to keep going for every game and fight every minute.”
And that’s exactly what Bell did this past Sunday during the ACC Championship final against top-ranked Virginia. It helped the Tar Heels slide by the Cavaliers 2-1 in double-overtime, winning the program’s 22nd conference title.
It was the largest stage of Bell’s young collegiate career. Still, she remembered not to take any moment, any possession or any play for granted.
In the sixth minute of the match, as junior defender Lotte Wubben-Moy sent a corner kick flying just outside the penalty box, Bell saw her opportunity. The 5-foot-11 defender soared up between two UVA defenders and used the side of her head to sneak the ball right past the right shoulder of goalkeeper Laurel Ivory, putting the Tar Heels on the board first.
“Before the game, (head coach Anson Dorrance) challenged me to go up when the ball’s in the corner,” Bell said. “So I just took the challenge, and it was awesome.”
Dorrance, a National Soccer Hall of Fame coach, couldn’t help but chuckle as he stood beside Bell, who is one of five of his players selected to the ACC All-Tournament Team.
“Gosh, I wish it was that simple all the time,” Dorrance said.
Her header was UNC’s lone goal of regulation. It was the reason the Tar Heels were able to take the Cavaliers to overtime after UVA first-year forward Diana Ordonez scored in the 68th minute. There, junior forward Alessia Russo drilled the game-winner.
When Bell, a Wichita, Kansas, native, first arrived in Chapel Hill, Dorrance did something he’d never done in his 43 years with UNC soccer: give a first-year a starting role from the first scrimmage.
Dorrance made sure to note that even names like Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly had to fight their way into his starting lineup as first-years. Not Bell, though. Something about her was different.
“I’m not coaching her as a college player. I’m coaching her as a future U.S. full national team and Olympic starter," Dorrance said. "That’s how good she is.”
That explains why Dorrance felt confident enough to challenge Bell before the match to be aggressive on corner kicks. It also explains why Bell wasn’t just ready for this moment — she was eager for it.
“I honestly was really looking forward to it,” Bell said of playing Virginia. “It was a big stage, and an opportunity to prove ourselves, and I think that’s what we did.”
Bell knew she could help her team get back to the big games after she witnessed her team suffer that heartbreaking loss to the Seminoles last season.
And on Sunday, it showed.
“You’re seeing the embryonic future full-team star,” Dorrance said. “So enjoy it while she’s here with us.”
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