It was only the 35th minute, but the North Carolina women’s soccer team celebrated like the match was decided when senior defender Tori Hansen scored the first goal in Thursday's 3-0 victory over Duke.
On UNC’s first corner kick of the game, Hansen tracked down a beautifully placed ball off the right foot of senior Emily Moxley. Weaving through a crowd of Blue Devils, she rose up over Duke midfielder Nicky Chico to head the ball into the left side of the net.
Immediately, Hansen was mobbed by her teammates — not just the ones off the field, but the ones off of it as well. The bench streamed out onto the field and was promptly served a yellow card for the celebration.
It was a bold statement for the Tar Heels, who had already picked up two yellow cards in the gritty rivalry matchup.
“I loved it and hated it,” head coach Anson Dorrance said of his team's excessive celebration.
Last season, UNC lost its first ever game at Dorrance Field to Duke. According to Hansen, the painful memories of the Blue Devils storming their home turf lingered on the minds of the Tar Heels coming into Thursday night.
“Most of this team remembers that feeling, and I think that was such a fire under us for this game,” Hansen said. “We were like, ‘We’re going to do this exact same thing to them here at their field.'"
And they did.
UNC didn't just win. They dominated from start to finish, outshooting the Blue Devils 15-2. Not only did Hansen net that tone-setting first goal, but she also commanded a back line that handed Duke its first shutout loss of the season.
In recent games, the defensive unit was devastated by two season-ending knee injuries to starters Maycee Bell and Kayleigh Herr. But for every blow that UNC’s back line has been dealt, another player has stepped up to meet the challenge.
With Bell and Herr looking on from the sidelines in matching leg braces, Hansen has grown into the de facto leader of the defense.
“We’ve had people be able to fill those roles with no drop down (in performance) whatsoever,” Hansen said.
Hansen played alongside senior Julia Dorsey as the team’s center backs, while Moxley and first-year Tessa Dellarose flanked them to the right and left. For 90 minutes, that quartet formed an impenetrable wall that completely shut down Duke’s attack.
Moxley, who is officially listed as a forward on the team roster, impressed in her first start this season at right back, not only assisting Hansen but also breaking up several of Duke’s plays at the goal.
“She’s in insane shape. She can run up and down the field,” redshirt first-year goalkeeper Emmie Allen said. “I think she was the best player on the field, probably first and second half.”
Allen, who up until Thursday had been splitting time with senior Marz Josephson in goal, played all 90 minutes against Duke. After securing the clean sheet with just a single save, Allen credited the back line for giving her an easy game in her debut as the team’s full-time goalkeeper.
And since UNC was able to so effectively keep the ball out of possession of the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels scored their second and third goals by essentially wearing their opponents out. Dorrance set up rolling substitutions for his relentless front line that sent in a barrage of crosses from the right side of the field. As the clock wound down, two of those passes snuck past Duke defenders and into the net off the feet of sophomore Emily Murphy and senior Isabel Cox.
As Dorrance pointed out though, the foundation of UNC’s success starts with an excellent defense. Thursday's performance showed that the Tar Heels' back line is powered more by the synergy of the group than the performances of individual stars.
“This is basically a demonstration of who we are at our best,” Dorrance said.
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