Coming off a tough loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship match, the North Carolina women’s soccer team will have a chance to avenge the loss that tarnished its undefeated season in the fall.
With two consecutive losses in the national title game in the last three years, UNC will look to get over the hump in its upcoming spring season and win its first NCAA crown since 2012. Here are three factors that will dictate how the Tar Heels can capture the team's 22nd championship this spring.
Remain solid on defense
In the last match of the fall season, UNC allowed the Seminoles to score two early goals, eventually falling into a 3-0 hole, from which the Tar Heels were unable to make a comeback. To return to the national championship match, UNC must come out with a solid defensive performance and maintain it throughout each game.
Since being named the 2019 ACC Freshman of the Year, sophomore Maycee Bell has been a force for the Tar Heels' defense. Bell has become one of the strongest defenders in the country, and in the fall, she was the anchor for a defensive unit that posted eight clean sheets in 12 games.
Sophomore Julia Dorsey has also been a key component to the North Carolina back line. As a two-sport athlete, Dorsey utilizes the defensive tactics of lacrosse to make herself nearly impossible to beat in one-on-one situations on the soccer field.
North Carolina allowed only six goals in the fall season, so maintaining this defensive effort will be crucial to the Tar Heels’ success in the spring.
Defeat quality opponents
Although UNC has won more titles than any other team, the road to winning has not been easy. Beating quality opponents will be a key to another Tar Heel championship.
In 2019, UNC posted a 24-2-1 record, only losing to Arkansas during the regular season and Stanford in the national championship match. The Razorbacks defeated the Tar Heels early in the season by a score of 2-0, which was an uncharacteristic loss for the team.
The loss to Stanford came during a penalty kick shootout, which UNC lost, 5-4. This left the Tar Heels in the runner-up position for the second consecutive year.
Concluding the fall season with a loss against Florida State was not the way North Carolina wanted to end its campaign, but the Seminoles are always a tough match for the Tar Heels. Florida State has beaten UNC three times since 2018 and has proven itself as a top contender not only in the ACC, but also nationally, winning two NCAA crowns in 2014 and 2018.
If the Tar Heels want to contend for another national championship, getting past its biggest in-conference foe will be an important aspect of making that hope a reality.
Rely on its stars
Junior midfielder Brianna Pinto will be crucial to the Tar Heels' performance this spring after she decided to return for one last season despite being recently selected by Sky Blue FC as the No. 3 overall pick in the NWSL Draft. Pinto was an offensive asset to UNC during the fall season, as she ranked fourth nationally for game-winning goals with three, and scored a total of six goals overall. Her ability to make goals in high-pressure situations will be valuable for the Tar Heels moving forward.
Junior goalkeeper Claudia Dickey has made a major impact on North Carolina’s ability to keep goals off the board since arriving to Chapel Hill. In the fall, Dickey ranked second in the country for shutouts with a total of eight. She allowed only six goals and recorded a save percentage of .813 after making 26 saves on the season.
The combination of an aggressive offense and stout defense are two key components for any championship contender. For the Tar Heels to maintain their position among the top teams in the nation, utilizing the team's talented crop of players will be vital.