Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide.
In front of a packed crowd at Dorrance Field on Thursday night, the No. 10 North Carolina women’s soccer team trounced No. 11 Tennessee, 3-0, to open its season.
UNC couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect game to start the 2022 campaign. Not only did the Tar Heels double up Tennessee on shots, but they also blanked the reigning SEC Tournament champions all while reaching deep into its roster.
Perhaps more significant than what happened during the game, though, was what happened before it. The team declared Thursday as Mental Health Awareness Night — players wrote messages of support on green signs lining the stadium.
“We wanted to do what we could to raise a little bit of awareness and really help support people and let them know that they’re not alone,” senior goalkeeper Marz Josephson said.
Prior to playing the national anthem, the crowd observed a 19-second moment of silence in honor of former Stanford soccer standout Katie Meyer, who died by suicide in March. Several rostered Tar Heels played against Meyer in the 2019 College Cup championship game, which Stanford won on penalty kicks.
“This team is just awesome because we play for something bigger than ourselves,” senior defender Tori Hansen said. “We know how important soccer is, but at the end of the day we’re people first.”
On the field, the Tar Heels displayed the high motor head coach Anson Dorrance has been praising all offseason.
Senior forward Aleigh Gambone scored first, getting to the rebound off of an arching Ruby Grant header that bounced off the crossbar and tapping it in with her right foot. The goal, which came 38 minutes into the game, ended a defensive standoff and pushed both teams to attack the goals with aggression.
The teams exchanged shots through the remainder of the half, but neither team was able to find the back of the net before the break.
“It was nip-and-tuck in the first half,” Dorrance said. “It wasn’t really that much separation; I thought they basically played us every step of the way.”
The initial minutes of the second half played out in much the same way. Josephson, who played the final 45 minutes of the game, made impressive save after impressive save on her way to securing a clean sheet.
At the 65-minute mark, junior forward Sam Meza booted a cross from the outside corner of the penalty area and found Hansen for UNC’s second goal of the game. From that point on, a barrage of shots opened up for UNC.
With 12 minutes left to play, junior midfielder Avery Patterson broke free from her defenders and rocketed a shot to the left of Tennessee goalkeeper Ally Zazzara for UNC’s third and final goal of the game.
By the time the final horn sounded, the Tar Heels had essentially run Tennessee off the pitch. It was exactly the type of victory that Dorrance hoped would set the tone for the remainder of the season.
“It’s not just a win, that’s a signature win,” Dorrance said. “That’s exactly the sort of win that gets you a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, because (Tennessee) is a very good team.”
Dorrance, now in his 44th season as head coach of UNC’s women’s soccer program, suggested in the preseason that this is one of the deepest and most talented rosters he has ever coached.
With a head-turning performance in front of an electric crowd, it seems that the players have bought in too, while also addressing a topic bigger than sports.
“Before we love each other as players, we love each other as people,” Hansen said. “I’m just really grateful to be a part of this group and these people, and I just love this team so much.”
If you are seeking immediate or long-term mental health care, see the list of local and national resources compiled by the DTH Editorial Board.
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