Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide.
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On a night when the No. 1 women's soccer team in the country visited Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels decided to take a step away from the spotlight and shine light on an issue that has plagued UNC's campus — mental health.
Forty posters were seen around Dorrance Field on Thursday night, lined up in the stadium with uplifting messages written on them by members of the team. The posters were in green, the color for mental health awareness.
On the field, players wore green ribbons and reserved four seats on their bench — a tribute to three UNC students who died by suicide this semester. The fourth seat was in honor of a friend of sophomore midfielder Madi Pry who died by suicide this month.
In a video posted by the UNC women's soccer team on Instagram Wednesday, Pry announced that the game would be dedicated to mental health.
"We don't want to wait any longer for tragedies to happen to start talking about this," Pry said in the video.
Even though the game started as usual, the message from the women's soccer team could be felt throughout the entire night. Even on a night this big.
“I know that girls on the team know people, and I, as well, know people, who have unfortunately lost their battle with mental health," sophomore forward Avery Patterson said. "So, (we wanted) to bring awareness and light to the situation and shine importance on how mental health needs to be emphasized.”
Coming into Thursday's game against the top-ranked, undefeated Florida State Seminoles, the Tar Heels were also one win away from earning head coach Anson Dorrance his 900th career victory.
What seemed to be a tall task to begin with became even taller when FSU’s Beata Olsson scored from 35 yards out, just over a minute into the game.
However, the Tar Heels fought back, attempting four shots within the first 28 minutes of the game, something the FSU defense was not accustomed to. Coming into the game, the Seminoles were only allowing opponents 2.8 shots per game.
“We focused more on our performance rather than trying to look at their stats prior to the game,” Patterson said. “We had been struggling to break down the 'wall' we had in front of the goal.”
That wall was broken in the 31st minute when first-year standout Emily Murphy found junior forward Isabel Cox between two FSU defenders, and Cox tied the game up at one.
“Murphy had a great assist," Cox said. "I knew once she was driving inside, I saw the seam and she played a great ball."
From this, the tide seemed to shift, as UNC took control of possession.
“I was proud of how we reacted after we got punched in the face early,” Dorrance said.
The resilience of the Tar Heels paid off again in the 62nd minute, when Cox scored her second goal of the night and gave UNC the lead. It was the second time in Cox’s career that she scored two goals in the same game, and her first time since the 2019 NCAA tournament.
“I visualized it being a big game, and it always is with it being against Florida State,” Cox said. “I just kept visualizing and figuring out what I needed to do to help my team succeed.”
UNC’s bid at a win came up short after Olsson notched her second goal of the night with just over 10 minutes left in regulation. The two teams played two overtime periods, but neither could score, ending the game in a 2-2 tie.
Though they did not come out on top, the Tar Heels see this game as a confidence builder.
“We can use this as a turning point for us, because we haven’t been performing at our best the past couple of weeks,” Patterson said. “To be down a goal and to still have the grit and determination to come back and score two (goals) against the number one team in the nation is turning the tide for our team.”
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