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Preview: Three keys to victory for UNC women's soccer against No. 5 Virginia

Senior defender, Tori Hansen (22) drives the ball upfield at Dorrence Field on Aug. 21, 2022. UNC won 2-0.

On Saturday evening, the North Carolina women’s soccer team will look to open its conference slate with a win against No. 5 Virginia at Dorrance Field.

The undefeated Cavaliers are on a tear, not having allowed a goal since their season-opening win against George Mason. Highlight wins for Virginia this season include a 1-0 victory over Georgetown and a 5-0 rout of then-ranked Memphis.

Here are three keys to a UNC victory on Saturday.

Keep the defense stout

Virginia head coach Steve Swanson has leaned on a 4-3-3 formation this year, spearheaded by graduate forward Haley Hopkins. Hopkins has tallied seven goals in her first eight games, tied for the third-most by any player in the country. Alongside two other dangerous pieces in left winger Alexa Spaanstra and midfielder Lia Godfrey, the Cavaliers command a formidable attack that will challenge UNC’s defense.

The Tar Heels have a talented but shallow back line that has faced plenty of adversity this season. Following the season-ending leg injuries to senior Maycee Bell and first-year Kayleigh Herr, seniors Tori Hansen and Julia Dorsey have done an impressive job of locking down the middle of the field and stopping opponents’ runs at the goal.

UNC boasts some of the best defensive midfielders in the ACC in junior Sam Meza and senior Maggie Pierce. Meza, who is also a considerable scoring threat, can play from any spot in the midfield. UNC head coach Anson Dorrance typically has Pierce split time with senior Libby Moore at the six position.

So far this season, Virginia has outscored its opponents 27-1, capitalizing on long passes and shots from the edges of the penalty box. To neutralize this, the Tar Heels should look to force turnovers in the midfield before the Cavaliers can get Hopkins comfortable in the attacking third.

Outshoot the Cavs

Like UNC, Virginia likes to dominate possession time, outshooting its opponents 173 to 28 this season. Even in a tie against VCU last week, the Cavaliers had 24 chances at the goal compared to the Rams’ seven.

The Tar Heels play a similarly ball-dominant brand of soccer, fueled by a deep reserve of speedy forwards. Dorrance uses his bench to wear down opposing defenses which is evidenced by UNC’s late-game scoring, as The Tar Heels have scored 12 of their 22 goals on the season in the second half. In wins against Tennessee, Texas and Duke, UNC scored several key goals that came after the 70th minute.

On Saturday, UNC will look to win the battle for possession in the midfield so that it can get star forwards Avery Patterson, Ally Sentnor and Emily Murphy working up front.

Feed off the home crowd

Drawing crowds to Dorrance Field has been a point of emphasis this season for UNC general manager Chris Ducar. With this marquee matchup slated for 6 p.m. on Saturday, conveniently scheduled during a bye week for the UNC football team, the Tar Heels will be expecting a significant turnout.

UNC drew large numbers to home games against Tennessee and UCLA, and a significant number of Tar Heel faithful traveled to Durham last week to watch the 3-0 victory over Duke. North Carolina boasts one of the best home field advantages in all of college soccer — the loss to the Bruins was just the third time the team had ever lost at Dorrance Field.


@dthsports |

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Lucas Thomae

Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.