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UNC women’s soccer is looking to bounce back from 2021 NCAA Tournament first-round loss

Junior defender Maycee Bell (25) dribbles the ball at the game against Virginia on Oct. 3 at Dorrance Field. UNC tied 0-0.
Buy Photos Junior defender Maycee Bell (25) dribbles the ball at the game against Virginia on Oct. 3 at Dorrance Field. UNC tied 0-0.

For 40 consecutive years, North Carolina women’s soccer head coach Anson Dorrance has helped guide the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament.

This past year he made history — but not in the way he wanted to.

UNC fell to South Carolina, 1-0, in the 2021 NCAA Tournament to give Dorrance his first-ever loss in the tournament's opening round.

Instead of dwelling on his now imperfect first-round record, the long-time coach is looking toward the future.

“We’re going to be a very tough team to beat next year," Dorrance said.

UNC has the tools to back up that statement. While other teams will be left depleted after losing players who used their bonus year of eligibility due to COVID-19, North Carolina will be adding to its arsenal. The Tar Heels are bringing in the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation and highest-ranked recruiting class in the ACC, complete with nine players who will increase the depth of the roster.

North Carolina will also have a new offensive option this fall in rising sophomore forward Ally Sentnor. Sentnor, the No. 1 recruit in her class, was sidelined during the 2021 season due to an ACL injury.

“She’s looking amazing,” rising senior defender Maycee Bell said. “Watching her, you’d never be able to tell that she tore her ACL. I think she’s going to be a piece that we missed in the spring, and she’s going to come in and kill it.”

While the Tar Heels will bring back players like Sentnor who are coming off of injuries, they will also return most of their roster. With rising fifth-year forward Rachel Jones using her extra year of eligibility, North Carolina will lose only four players to graduation.

Rising junior forward Avery Patterson said she expects that roster depth to translate to scoring, and lots of it.

“You should expect us to score a lot of goals,” Patterson said. “We have a lot of people that are going to be willing to score all the time, both the starters and the reserves."

Still, nobody on the roster has ever won what North Carolina has been trying to reunite with for almost 10 years — a national championship.

In three of the last four seasons, UNC has come within reaching distance of its first NCAA title since 2012. In 2018, the Tar Heels lost in the championship game to ACC rival Florida State in a 1-0 match. UNC reached the final game again in 2019, only to lose on penalty kicks, 5-4, to Stanford. In the 2020-21 season, UNC ran into Santa Clara in the Final Four, losing 3-1 to the eventual national champions.

UNC players say that the bitter memories of those postseason defeats will fuel their determination heading into the fall.

“Maycee’s been to a national championship, I’ve been to a Final Four, and now we’ve both experienced the opposite end of the spectrum," Patterson said. “The sting of losing in the first round is going to leave us motivated for this season.”

Coming into the 2022 season, everybody on the team knows what their end goal is and what they’re competing for. Moreover, the Tar Heels know just how good this team has the potential to be.

“It’ll be an absolute dogfight for playing time,” Dorrance said. “It’ll be an even more severe dogfight to see who starts, and it’ll even be a challenge on this team to see who travels. We’re going to have an immensely talented roster from top to bottom.”

@thenoahmonroe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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