The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 7th

Preview: UNC women's soccer looks to continue strong play into ACC Tournament

UNC senior midfielder Maggie Pierce (28) kicks the ball during the UNC Women's Soccer 2-0 victory over NC State on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at Dorrance Field.
Buy Photos UNC senior midfielder Maggie Pierce (28) kicks the ball during the UNC Women's Soccer 2-0 victory over NC State on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, at Dorrance Field.

Following a one-year hiatus, the North Carolina women’s soccer team is back in the ACC Tournament. 

After failing to qualify for the event for the first time in school history last fall, the Tar Heels proceeded to stumble in the opening round of the ensuing NCAA Tournament, marking another first for the storied program. 

This team enters the postseason with momentum, finishing the regular season as the top seed in the ACC and winning six straight matches. In the upcoming tournament, the Tar Heels will face some of the best teams in the conference with the hopes of entering the NCAA Tournament in top form. 

On Thursday, UNC will head to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary to face the winner of a Duke-Virginia matchup in the semifinals. Here’s a look at the team’s path to the program’s 23rd tournament title:

Finish strong

Despite boasting one of the best attack units in the country and averaging 2.44 goals per game, the Tar Heels’ have occasionally struggled with holding leads in the second half. The UNC defense has only allowed 10 goals this season, yet eight of those have come after the break, which was a difference-maker in the team’s three losses.

Since falling on the road to Virginia Tech on Oct. 1, the back line has improved during the team’s six-game winning streak, surrendering only one goal to then-No. 4 Florida State.

Although the team has dealt with numerous injuries to its defensive stalwarts, seniors Maggie Pierce, Tori Hansen and Julia Dorsey have stepped in to shut down offenses. First-year Tessa Dellarose has also been a consistent contributor at the fullback position, starting in every game this season.

At times this fall, the Tar Heels’ offense has acted as its best defense, as the team frequently maintains possession in the opposing team’s attacking third. But as the games become more meaningful and any defensive lapse could make or break a season, the unit must continue to hold steady so the team does not have to rely too heavily on its attack group.

Counter and play fast

Head coach Anson Dorrance has spent much of the season praising the team’s speed. And — based on the results — it’s been for good reason.

The Tar Heels operate at a quick pace from all areas of the field, which has allowed the team to deviate from its typical game plan of building possession and instead launch timely counterattacks when needed.

After two games of registering at least 20 shots against Pittsburgh and N.C. State, the offense momentarily sputtered against Wake Forest and in the first half against Florida State. However, a quick counterattack allowed redshirt first-year forward Ally Sentnor to dart her way into the box and force a handball that resulted in a UNC penalty kick. In the second half, when the offense once again needed a spark, Sentnor received a pass and danced left to drill the eventual game-winner.

Since inserting first-year forward Maddie Dahlien – a former track state champion – into the starting lineup at right wing, the Tar Heels have looked more explosive on the outside, which has allowed the team to attack the box more frequently. 

The Tar Heels are 2-1 against teams in the ACC Tournament this season and have scored at least two goals in each of those outings. While these opponents will likely make adjustments from the previous outing, UNC’s revamped attack should still threaten teams with its diverse style of play.  

@hunternelson_1 

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com 

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