The North Carolina women’s soccer team swarmed Claudia Dickey. It was 40 minutes into an ACC semifinal matchup against Virginia and every UNC player on the field rushed their goalkeeper with elation on their faces, embracing her in the center of a group celebration.
Dickey is a first team All-ACC goalkeeper, known for making key saves when the team depends on her the most. But stopping a contested goal wasn’t why the team rushed from their position to hug her.
Dickey had just scored — giving North Carolina its first goal in a 2-0 victory that would propel it to an ACC Championship appearance.
UNC’s sophomore midfielder Aleigh Gambone drew a foul in the box while rushing the net in the 40th minute after a trip by a Cavaliers defender sent her face into the turf. Head coach Anson Dorrance could’ve called on junior forward Rachel Jones, a gifted penalty kicker, or anyone else on the roster. But, he turned his head all the way to his left and called Dickey’s number.
It was a long trek from her net to standing in front of Virginia goalkeeper Laurel Ivory. It was Dickey’s first penalty kick of the season. It was also her first time scoring a goal, after she put the ball in the net once in the 2019 National Championship game loss against Stanford in a penalty-kick shootout.
This time she was alone. Goalkeeper versus goalkeeper — an even matchup as two defensively minded players went head-to-head. It’s rare for a goalkeeper to take that position, but Dickey made no hesitation when she struck the ball quickly and with force, sending the rocket shot just left of Ivory. Her teammates ran to her.
Though Dickey made her way onto the scorebook for the first time in her career and received the warmest gratitude from her teammates, she didn’t pay too much mind to the celebrations.
“I honestly wasn’t really listening,” Dickey said.
She had too much on her mind.
“My goalkeeper coach always shows me moments when goalkeepers go up and score and get scored on right after,” Dickey said. “Having them all come up to me was cool because I’ve never had that happen before, but I didn’t want to get too excited because I didn’t want to jinx myself.”
Those who kept watching the game in its entirety know Dickey didn’t jinx herself. In fact, she went on to secure her eighth shutout of the season.
“Claudia’s an amazing goalkeeper,” said Isabel Cox, a sophomore forward and the only other player to score on Friday. “I really think she’s going to be on the top-level one day and we’ll see her on the National Team.”
Dorrance said goalkeeping has been one of the Tar Heel's greatest strengths this season. Dickey kept that trend alive Friday, playing a full 90-minute game and making four saves. She ranks No. 2 in the NCAA in both shutouts (eight) and goals against average (.300).
Dorrance describes Dickey’s style of play simply: she’s clean.
“It means when the ball hits her hand, it stays there,” Dorrance said. “When she gets the ball to her feet, she doesn’t panic and everything she does is incredibly clean. That’s what sets Claudia apart.”
And, of course, he noticed how her kicking ability set her apart from the roster.
“We didn’t hesitate (to call Dickey to take the penalty kick),” Dorrance said. “Honestly, she was dying for it. For this to happen in the ACC Semifinal is just fabulous because she was dying to take a penalty in regulation.”
Although seeing Dickey take the penalty kick likely surprised most people watching, the starting goalkeeper’s hard shot is a not-so-hidden talent among the Tar Heels.
“We always joke around that if there’s a PK then Claudia’s going to take it,” Cox said. “It happened and we were all just so excited because she’s always been so good at PKs.”
Dickey’s high praises are well-deserved. Last year, she fought for time to play in the ACC and NCAA Championships over her teammates, proving herself worthy of the starting position in critical moments. Now, in a season in which North Carolina has relied on Dickey alone, she has had to be sharp for 90-minutes every single game.
“She’s coming into her own as a goalkeeper,” Dorrance said. “She’s evolving and she’s getting some excellent recognition and I genuinely feel like she’s earned it.”
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