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Sunday October 2nd

Here's where three of UNC's fall sports teams stand entering this new season

<p>UNC junior forward Erin Matson (1) attempts to regain posession of the ball during UNC field hockey's 4-3 national championship victory over the Michigan Wolverines on May 9, 2021.</p>
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UNC junior forward Erin Matson (1) attempts to regain posession of the ball during UNC field hockey's 4-3 national championship victory over the Michigan Wolverines on May 9, 2021.

This fall, Tar Heel sports fans will have a bevy of electric teams to cheer for in the stadiums and fields across UNC’s campus.

Whether it’s a team on the rise after a down year or an old juggernaut storming back for another huge season, this year’s fall sports will give students and fans alike moments of cheering, tears and endless energy.

Here's a look at three UNC fall sports teams that deserve close attention.

Football

Through the soaring highs and deep lows that UNC football has grappled with over the last three seasons, two elements remained constant — head coach Mack Brown on the Kenan Stadium sidelines and all-time great UNC quarterback Sam Howell sitting under center.

With Howell now wearing a Washington Commanders jersey in the NFL, though, things are about to change.

Brown and offensive coordinator Phil Longo have two main choices for quarterback — junior Jacolby Criswell and redshirt sophomore Drake Maye. Both signal callers are former 247Sports four-star recruits who showed promise both in practice and on the field last season, and the competition for the start will likely continue up to the beginning of the season.

The defense is being revamped, too. After a loss to South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, out went Jay Bateman as co-defensive coordinator and in came Gene Chizik as assistant head coach for defense. Chizik has a championship pedigree, coordinating a title-winning defense alongside Brown at Texas in 2005 and winning one as a head coach with Auburn in 2010.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how the team will look come August, but they should have the talent to figure it out.

Women’s soccer

2021 was a misstep for the North Carolina women’s soccer team.

The Tar Heels had a typically strong regular season, albeit marked with rivalry losses to both Duke and N.C. State. The team was slightly hampered by injury and didn’t look as indomitable as they had in years past, but it was a good season nonetheless, earning UNC a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

And then, for the first time in program history, the Tar Heels lost in the first round, falling to South Carolina, 1-0, at Dorrance Field.

The Tar Heels will be doing whatever is within their power to avoid that same fate this coming season.

This includes seeing players like Ally Sentnor, Talia DellaPeruta and Julia Dorsey get fully healthy after sustaining injuries last season, as well as returning four of the team’s five leading point-earners. Among the returners is sophomore forward Emily Murphy, who also missed time last season with injury, but still led the team in points.

UNC is also bringing in the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation per TopDrawerSoccer, headlined by DellaPeruta’s sister, Tori DellaPeruta, and U-20 U.S. Women's Youth National Team defender Sydney Cheesman.

With a strong returning roster and some dynamite youngsters coming to town, this season could be a turnaround for the Tar Heels.

Field hockey

Another titanic Tar Heel team that fell short of its usual expectations was UNC field hockey.

It wasn’t a bad season at all — the Tar Heels won 13 matches and another ACC title, defeating Virginia 1-0 in the conference tournament final. But for a team that had won the last three NCAA titles, that wasn’t enough. They wouldn’t get a shot at the four-peat, though, falling to Northwestern in a crushing 2-0 first-round defeat in the NCAA Tournament. 

Even with that tough loss, UNC fans have a lot to be excited about this coming season, not least of which is the final season in the college career of UNC field hockey’s undisputed greatest player of all time — graduate forward Erin Matson.

Matson was as good as ever last season, scoring 27 goals in 17 games and leading the Tar Heels in every meaningful offensive statistic. The Tar Heels struggled on defense, though, conceding 36 goals on the year — more than any season in the last 10 years.

It will be interesting to see how legendary head coach Karen Shelton reworks the team around Matson this coming season, especially given the departure of three of the team’s top scorers in Hannah Griggs, Cassie Sumfest and Eva Smolenaars.

It will be a challenge, but this isn’t a team that’s ever shied away from adversity. 

@pjdaman12

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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