While walking past Dorrance’s office, Tolentino learned the answer was her. She vividly remembers walking onto the field for the first time as a starter for the Tar Heels' opening match against Wake Forest.
“Walking out I was super nervous that first game,” she said. “I was completely out of it until we actually started playing and then I got back into it.”
After Tolentino went down with an injury three games into the season, Allen got her chance to take the field as a starter. She played over 30 minutes in each of the first three games, but her role was about to expand. And she was ready for it.
“You get the nerves and you get the butterflies, but I felt very prepared,” Allen said. “Practices are so intense and so hard, I think it really prepares us for the games.”
Allen played 90 minutes in each of the seven remaining regular season games for a defense that only allowed two goals during that span.
Despite the circumstances, Tolentino has supported Allen from the sidelines throughout her injury. The two have become friends during the year and have worked closely together to improve their respective games.
“It was helpful for me to have played in the first three games to help Abby adjust to the college level and now I think she’s doing the same for me,” Tolentino said.
They were also embraced by the team around them, led by captains Taylor Otto and Rachel Jones. Allen said the upperclassmen have been supportive of their first-year teammates through their transition onto the team.
“They’re so encouraging,” Allen said. “They’ll send texts after the game to kind of build you confidence.”
Tolentino said Otto, especially, has taken the extra step to create a welcoming environment, befriending both first-years early on in their journey.
“Taylor reached out to me prior to actually coming on campus, constantly checking in with me, seeing how I was doing,” Tolentino said.
Otto, the redshirt senior has been with the program through two National Championship appearances and three ACC title runs. With all of her experience, she knows what the team needs to do to be at its best and is impressed with how Tolentino and Allen have adopted UNC's culture.
“Both of the freshmen that have stepped in have done such a wonderful job,” Otto said. “They’ve held their ground, they’ve been willing to take any advice from the coaches and players and they've honestly really shined.”
North Carolina's defense has excelled during the shortened season, forcing seven shutout victories, including a 1-0 victory in the ACC Championship quarterfinals. The impact of the Tar Heels' young defenders, both on and off the field, will be pivotal as they strive for their 23rd ACC Championship title.
“This is not any old team — it’s right now the No. 1 team in the country,” Otto said. “To step in and play the way that they've been playing is such a testament to them, their work and their ability on the field.”
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