The No. 4 North Carolina women's soccer team bounced back with a 3-0 win over No. 22 Clemson on Sept. 26, following a recent loss to then No. 4 Duke and a tie against Virginia Tech.
The Clemson matchup was not only a big game for the Tar Heels collectively, but also for first-year midfielder Bella Sember, who scored her first career goal.
This faceoff was significant for North Carolina, whose perfect season — and all-time unbeaten record at Dorrance Field — ended after the Duke loss. Against Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels fell two goals behind for the first time this season.
“Over the last two games, I'd say that we were kind of in a defensive rut just in terms of silly mistakes,” sophomore forward and midfielder Avery Patterson said.
Patterson’s impressive attacking on the left side made her a top performer on Sunday, but she wasn’t the only Tar Heel who impressed while facing the Tigers.
Sember, who hadn’t even notched a shot on goal thus far in her young career, put three shots on target, with one finding the back of the net.
“I kept dribbling, dribbling, dribbling, dribbling across the box,” Sember said. “I saw the goalie; she was kind of moving with me. So if I can move to my left, she kept moving to her right. So I kind of put it back to her left where she wasn't. She couldn't get over fast enough, and it went in.”
The opening goal was celebrated by Sember’s teammates, who were not only eager to get ahead in the game, but also proud of this individual accomplishment.
“I think such a big part of our culture is really being excited for everyone's success,” Sember said. “At the end of the day, if I do something, well, I know that I'm going to have their support. And then to be able to give that back to them is such an amazing feeling.”
Head coach Anson Dorrance was also thrilled to see Sember’s hard work in practice finally pay off on the stat sheet.
“Everyone on the team loves Bella, and they also know her talent,” Dorrance said. “For her to put us in a position to go into the half winning by a goal is significant because then that changes our strategies.”
Sember’s goal helped UNC gain rhythm offensively after stout defense from both sides in the first 31 minutes. Her goal marked the only point in the first half and allowed North Carolina to go into halftime with the lead.
Then in the second half, junior forward Isabel Cox added another score less than seven minutes in, and in the 85th minute, senior Claudia Dickey, the team’s goalkeeper, made a penalty kick to put the nail in the coffin.
“Every soccer coach will tell you that you don't feel safe until you're up 3-0 and honestly, I didn't, because they could get back in it with a strike, a wonder strike, and then all of a sudden, it could be tied,” Dorrance said.
Dorrance said recognizing weaknesses in the Clemson system allowed his North Carolina team to formulate a game plan that could thrive against the Tigers. Beating a ranked Clemson team proved that despite difficulties in recent games, the Tar Heels are still capable of playing like one of the best teams in the nation.
The breakthrough performance by Sember and the rest of the attacking corps gave UNC its first conference win of the season, and also helped the Tar Heels establish momentum the team will try to carry into the bulk of ACC play, starting next Sunday against No. 7 Virginia.