Last August, highly-touted first-year Ally Sentnor made her debut for the North Carolina women's soccer team — it didn't last long.
When she took the field in the team's exhibition against UNCW that day, she tore her right ACL, setting up a long recovery for the rising star.
“(The injury) was at Wilmington in the first 10 minutes," Sentnor said. "Pretty devastating."
Without Sentnor, a player that head coach Anson Dorrance called "the best player of her generation," the Tar Heels missed the ACC Tournament and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
Now, Sentnor is back, and at a perfect time.
Following a long hiatus, Sentnor was away from the team in Thursday's season opening victory against Tennessee as she spent time playing for the U.S. national team at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. On Sunday afternoon, she made her return for UNC in a 2-0 victory against UNCW, the same team she faced in her first and only college game.
When Sentnor checked into the game 21 minutes into the first half, the score was tied at zero. Up until that point, there had been only five shots taken, all by UNC. However, the young forward wasted no time playing aggressively. Thirty-two minutes into the game, Sentnor shot and missed over the crossbar.
However, she didn’t let the miss discourage her. Less than two minutes later, she fired a shot from the right corner of the penalty area into the left side of the net, putting her team on the scoreboard. After tallying her first college goal, Sentnor rushed to embrace Dorrance on the sidelines.
“There’s a certain sort of poetic justice for her to be back for this game and, mostly, to score a goal,” Dorrance said. “I wanted her to know she was home.”
Despite it being the first goal of the game, the Tar Heels were putting on a dominant defensive performance. By halftime, they were outshooting the Seahawks 11-0 and had control of the matchup.
The second half of the game played out in a similarly slow-grinding fashion. Sentnor saw more playing time, logging a total of 43 minutes for the game, and despite her and her fellow players' persistent attack, the clock kept ticking without another goal.
This scoring drought was ended in the 73rd minute by sophomore forward Emily Murphy, who separated from her defender and headed in a goal off a pass from senior forward Emily Moxley. Both Sentnor and Murphy’s goals were assisted by Moxley, who previously played for the Seahawks.
“I think it’s fun,” Moxley said about playing her former school. “We just went out there and had fun like it was any other game.”
Sentnor and Moxley both had something to prove when playing UNCW, and they both did just that, putting forth strong performances in the 2-0 victory. Along with the admirable performances of several key players, Sentnor made her return to UNC women’s soccer by beating the very team she faced when her season suddenly ended last fall.
As the Tar Heels continue their non-conference play against a bevy of quality opponents, including Texas and No. 13 UCLA, they'll have a new weapon at their disposal — someone who's finally completed her long-awaited journey back to the pitch.
“When I stepped on that field, nothing mattered except doing what I could out there,” Sentnor said. “It’s so awesome to bring whatever I can to the team.”
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