Despite a dominant first half, the North Carolina women's soccer team walked off Dorrance Field deflated on Saturday night after giving up three late-game goals in a loss to No. 7 Virginia.
The first 45 minutes of the game were executed perfectly by the Tar Heels, who didn't allow a single shot or corner kick from the Cavaliers as they racked up a quick two-goal lead.
That wasn't much of a surprise — UNC has controlled possession against some of the most talented teams in the country this season.
What came after the halftime break was newer territory for this UNC team, as the Tar Heels lost battles for the ball in the midfield and looked out of sorts at times when Virginia started to apply more pressure. While head coach Anson Dorrance's squad is known for wearing its opponents down, it was the Tar Heels who looked tired by the end of Saturday's contest.
"We were casual in possession," Dorrance said. "They stripped us, they counterattacked very well and, boy, did they finish wonderfully."
The Tar Heels could see the path to victory after two early goals from sophomore forward Emily Murphy and redshirt first-year forward Ally Sentnor in the game's first 25 minutes. Coming out of halftime, UNC hoped it could sneak a third goal past Virginia goalkeeper Cayla White to put the game away.
Instead, fifth-year forward Rebecca Jarrett halved UVA's deficit with an unassisted, left-footed goal in the 54th minute. Seven minutes later, the Cavaliers netted the tying goal on a corner kick.
Coming off the foot of junior midfielder Lia Godfrey, the ball first was headed out of the box by UNC senior defender Julia Dorsey, then was sent backward and into the net off the heads of Virginia players Lacey McCormack and Alexa Spaanstra.
The odd sequence delivered a shock to UNC, and the Tar Heels suddenly saw their first 45 minutes of suffocating defense wiped out by the Virginia counter. Dorsey said Virginia's equalizer was a result of the Tar Heel's poor positioning in the box.
"It seemed like we weren't focused in on that corner kick, which can be the difference in a game, as we just saw," Dorsey said.
UNC tried to restart its offense in the game's final 30 minutes, but struggled to control the pace like it had earlier in the match. The Tar Heels' once frenetic midfield started to slow down, losing battles for the ball while Virginia capitalized off its momentum.
"They just were beating us to first and second balls," Dorsey said. "It looked like we were fatigued, honestly."
Dorsey played all 90 minutes of the contest alongside senior center-back Tori Hansen. Together, the duo commands a back line that has been depleted by injuries to senior Maycee Bell and first-year Kayleigh Herr.
Despite its scarcity of substitute defenders, UNC has typically held strong against opposing offenses. On Saturday, facing one of the top-scoring teams in the country, that weakness was made clear.
"We were exploited," Dorrance said. "It doesn't mean we are going to completely revamp what we're doing in the back, because in general I think that's a good defense."
In the 71st minute, Godfrey nailed the game-winner for Virginia, a powerful shot from outside the penalty box that snuck past UNC goalkeeper Emmie Allen and into the bottom left corner of the goal.
As the clock ticked down, the Tar Heels had a few solid chances to retake control of the game with breakaway runs at the goal.
Before Godfrey's goal, first-year forward Tori Dellaperuta missed wide right in front of the goal on a one-tap shot. In the 81st minute, sophomore midfielder Emily Colton sent another shot to the right of the goalpost.
In one last counter by UNC, first-year forward Maddie Dahlien failed to finish after breaking through the backline and sending the ball at the center of the goal, right into the arms of White. After Dahlien failed to deliver, Virginia ran the clock down to secure the upset victory.
The loss was a difficult one for UNC, who isn't accustomed to dropping games in this fashion, particularly not ACC openers at home. However, the young team won't dwell on it for long. In a conference as competitive as the ACC, they simply can't afford to.
"We can't really get down on ourselves," Sentnor said. "But we really need to dig deep and figure out what we need to do for the next games and really turn this season around."
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