If fall sports seasons are able to proceed as planned, two North Carolina teams will be right back in the title hunt, while a third will seek a return to national prominence. Take a look at the 2020 outlook for the UNC field hockey, women's soccer and men's soccer squads.
Haven't been keeping up with the back-to-back defending national champion Tar Heel field hockey team? If not, there's only one number you need to know: 46, the number of consecutive games head coach Karen Shelton's squad has won over the last two seasons.
Since rising junior Erin Matson stepped on campus, North Carolina hasn't lost. She won the National Player of the Year award last year and will be the linchpin of a 2020 team looking to keep that inconceivable streak alive.
One thing to keep in mind, though — Matson is the only player in the top six in scoring last year who didn't graduate. Look for midfielder Eva Smolenaars and forward Riley Fulmer to pick up the slack and help vie for a third straight title, a feat that hasn't been accomplished in the sport since Wake Forest in the early aughts.
Anson Dorrance's team got heartbreakingly close to another NCAA title last season — it came down to nothing less than penalty kicks in the national championship, where the Tar Heels fell to Stanford 5-4. That hurts, but it's not all: the loss came after a similarly cruel twist of fate in the 2018 title game, where Florida State trumped UNC 1-0 after a late score. Could the third time be the charm for North Carolina?
The team was dominant in a 24-2-1 campaign last season: eight players with double-digit points, 17.8 shots per game by the squad and a nice 69 goals on the season. Defensively, too, the Tar Heels allowed just 11 goals and recorded 20 shutouts. All indications are that those numbers won't be changing much next season with virtually every member of the back line returning in 2020 a year wiser and, presumably, even hungrier for a title.
While UNC is losing stalwart forward Bridgette Andrzejewski, it's returning the potent combo of Alessia Russo and Brianna Pinto, which combined for 24 goals and nine assists last season. If those two are as good as advertised, the Tar Heels will have a decent shot at going undefeated in the ACC and battling for the College Cup once again.
The Tar Heels entered last season as the No. 6 team in the country and the preseason favorite for the ACC crown. By the time the year was over though, those high hopes were nothing but a memory.
North Carolina finished 2019 with a 7-7-4 record, including a 3-5 mark in conference play and a seven-game winless streak to end the season. The team missed out on the NCAA Tournament — a first since head coach Carlos Somoano took the helm in 2011. Making matters worse, three of UNC's top four scorers — Jelani Pieters, Mauricio Pineda and Jack Skahan — graduated.
While one imagines Somoano, a national champion with three College Cup appearances to his name, is equipped for the challenge, it'll be interesting to see how the Tar Heels respond in 2020. After Alex Rose's team-leading seven goals, only two more returners, Santiago Herrera and Jonathan Jimenez, recorded multiple scores.
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