Although the Tar Heels were knocking and knocking for over 40 minutes, it took just 37 seconds to rip out the Wolfpack's soul.
Fresh off a four-goal performance against Pittsburgh on Thursday, the North Carolina women’s offensive persistence carried forward into its Sunday afternoon match against North Carolina State. Following a number of quality saves from Wolfpack keeper Maria Echezarreta, the Tar Heels had no choice but to keep pushing, which was eventually rewarded with a goal from sophomore forward Emily Murphy.
Less than a minute after halftime, though, North Carolina delivered the dagger.
Quickly working into the attacking front, Avery Patterson dished a pass to redshirt first-year forward Ally Sentnor, who then sent a pass back to the junior midfielder. After a first touch, Patterson delivered a strike into the bottom left corner to give UNC a 2-0 lead, which ultimately became the final score of the program’s 400th ever home victory.
“This season, we talk about how one game we play is basically two – the first half is our first game and the second half is our second game,” Patterson said. “So we came out with the same attacking mentality as the first half.”
The aggressive play continued over the next several minutes, as the team nearly added another goal after creating a two-on-one opportunity. Although Patterson’s goal closed the scoring for the afternoon, the Tar Heels maintained control by maintaining 66 percent of the possession and outshooting the Wolfpack 29-3 – the team’s largest shot total of the season.
Following the team’s win on Thursday, head coach Anson Dorrance said he was pleased with how the team dominated in the second half, which had been a glaring weakness to this year’s squad. Eight of the nine goals UNC has allowed this season have come in the second half, including six of those coming in the team’s three losses.
By scoring early, the Tar Heels prevented the Wolfpack from feeling any type of comfort, which eventually resulted in UNC’s fourth conference win of the season.
“Second halves have been a little bit of our struggle this year, so to put that nail in there was awesome," Sentnor said.
Although the second half was when the Tar Heels broke the game open, the final push in the first allowed the team to enter the break with a jolt of momentum. Contributions came from several players in the lineup, acting as a testament to Dorrance’s continuous praise of the team’s depth.
Despite being used sparingly in her graduate season because of a previous labrum injury, graduate midfielder Rachel Jones made an immediate impact after being inserted into action with 15 minutes to play before halftime. Working on the left side, she regularly danced her way into the box, which eventually led to the corner kick that set up Murphy’s goal.
“It would have been a completely different halftime talk if we didn’t score at the death of the first half. So, that was a very important goal, and I credit Rachel Jones for that,” Dorrance said.
In addition to Jones, first-year Maddie Dahlien played a large role in creating energy for the Tar Heels’ offense. Just a game removed from scoring her first career goal, Dahlien started at right wing on Sunday and her speed immediately posed problems for the Wolfpack defense.
Dahlien, a former Minnesota track state champion, helped the Tar Heels remain aggressive by routinely getting behind defenders on through balls, which forced N.C. State to make a substitution at left back early in the second half.
“She’s going to give us a dimension out there on the right side that is very, very intimidating,” Dorrance said. “I thought Maddie’s performance in that game justified her progression.”
Just last week, the Tar Heels looked like they were headed into a rut. A loss to Virginia Tech left the team looking for answers. But over the last four halves, it seems like they just might have been found.
While scoring two goals is usually enough to win, for a unit with high expectations, there’s reason to believe the floodgates can be opened even wider.
“We’re not just dominating ordinarily, we’re dominating thoroughly,” Dorrance said. “I’m not only happy with where our team is, but where it’s going."
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