Earlier this week, head coach Anson Dorrance claimed this year's North Carolina women’s soccer team was the deepest he had ever coached.
He didn’t point to any of his 21 teams that won national titles. Instead, the Hall-of-Fame coach identified his current squad as the one with superior depth — a surprising claim for a team fresh off a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament.
But UNC’s 2-0 win over No. 3 BYU spoke to that depth, as the Tar Heels’ ability to maintain fresh legs helped them secure a second exhibition victory this week. By the end of the match, UNC employed a total of 17 reserve players.
“We have extraordinary depth, and I’m not talking about at one or two positions, I’m talking about at all 11 positions,” Dorrance said. “(The depth) is going to make a difference — not just when we compete today, but in the training environment.”
Sending out multiple lineups throughout the game, Dorrance saw the possibilities within his defensive unit expand.
Led by senior Maycee Bell, the Tar Heels play a pressing-style defense centered around aggressive movements. In the first minutes of Saturday night’s contest, this relentless ball pressure was visible as BYU struggled to establish itself on the attacking end.
“Our mentality is to high press the entire game so having a deep roster allows for us to do that for 90 minutes,” junior midfielder Avery Patterson said.
As North Carolina’s defense began to settle in, the offense started discovering openings within the Cougars’ back line.
Just over 12 minutes into the match, after a UNC shot bounced off a BYU defender, forward junior Sam Meza found the ball and zipped a pass to first-year forward Tori DellaPeruta, who with one touch blasted the ball into the top left corner of the goal.
“Tori can play,” Dorrance said. “She is a baller, she is smart and she plays the game (right).”
DellaPeruta’s powerful finish gave the first-year standout her second goal in just two games. The Cumming, Ga. native said the transition to the college game hasn’t been as easy as it may appear, but her teammates have helped her find early success.
“I’m just super hungry to score,” she said. “And I'm super hungry to win — this whole team is. It makes it easier to play together when everyone is competing together.”
In the 26th minute, UNC made its first substitution of the night — a modest change of two players. One minute later, North Carolina called in three more substitutes, followed by another trio of reserves shortly after.
Despite outshooting BYU by nine shots in the first half, North Carolina held just a one-goal lead at the intermission, but a corner kick early in the second half bounced around the box to Patterson, who booted in UNC’s second goal.
“My role last year was more defensive,” Patterson said. “Now I’ve shifted into more of the attack in the left forward position so I’m hoping those goals are going to keep dropping for me.”
By the midway point of the second half, leading by two goals, the Tar Heels were noticeably more rested than the Cougars thanks to UNC’s multiple lineups. Every bounce of the ball appeared to be met by a Tar Heel two steps faster than any nearby Cougar.
One of the leaders of last year’s squad, Patterson said the speed and quickness were a direct product of logging fewer minutes, and the fresh legs have already paid dividends.
“We have new freshmen coming in this year that absolutely smashed all of our athletic tests,” she said. “(Dorrance) wasn’t kidding about the depth, that’s for sure.”