The North Carolina women's soccer team fought through the bitter cold to defeat Notre Dame 2-0, in the last game of the season largely to the credit of a spectacular UNC defense. With the win, the Tar Heels secured their 17th undefeated regular season in program history and 24th regular season ACC Championship.
In the opening 30 minutes, UNC gave an impressive performance for the scarce number of fans surrounding Dorrance Field. The Tar Heels' smooth passing, strong attack and solid defense were applaudable against a high press from the Fighting Irish.
“We can’t play better than that,” head coach Anson Dorrance said. “Those were the best 30 minutes of our season.”
Despite a relatively equal number of opportunities for both teams in the first half, the Fighting Irish simply could not break through an outstanding UNC back line.
North Carolina goalkeeper Claudia Dickey and defenders Emily Fox, Maycee Bell, Abby Allen and Julia Dorsey were major contributors to the Tar Heels' shutout on Sunday and the team’s success all season. Outside of a burst of three Notre Dame shots near the end of the first half, the North Carolina defense stifled the Fighting Irish by holding them to one shot in the second half, only one of which was on goal.
“I’m very, very pleased with the way this defense is playing. That back four and the goalkeeper, these are very elite players,” Dorrance said.
However, it wasn’t only those five players who defended well on Sunday night. It was the entire team. The efforts by every UNC player on the field to defend the ball did not go unnoticed. Notre Dame head coach Nate Norman commended Dorrance and his team as they left the field after the match for every player’s hard work.
Fresh legs gave UNC the boost it needed to strike first on the scoreboard. A powerful drive came from the right foot of sophomore Hallie Klanke with 10 minutes left in the half, finding the bottom left corner of the net.
The Tar Heels came out with renewed energy from the half time break. Just five minutes in, junior midfielder Brianna Pinto fired an impressive header into the goal, putting her team up 2-0.
With a comfortable lead, the defensive work resumed with first-year Sam Meza effectively dispossessing the Fighting Irish of the ball twice around the 50th minute. UNC kept up a fast pace and movement of the ball through the midfield.
The defensive intensity picked up throughout the second half, with Notre Dame earning three yellow cards, including one for the bench after Norman argued with the referee, and a total of 23 fouls.
North Carolina’s seniors were celebrated prior to the game and shared a moment with their families before their last debut at Dorrance Field. It was fitting given their stellar performances. Dorrance said Fox, who he proclaimed a top-three collegiate player in the country, will only continue to improve beyond her four years at UNC as she prepares to embark on a professional soccer career.
Senior midfielder Taylor Otto also stepped up in the midfield to control the pace of the match and carry her team into the locker room with no goals from the Fighting Irish.
“It’s everyone’s dream to come to Carolina,” Otto said. “I got to stay here another year, and I’ve had a great time. It’s never easy to play your last game in this stadium, so it was great to have a win in the last game out here with my team. They made it a great night.”
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