The North Carolina women’s soccer team (18-4-1) beat the BYU Cougars (11-3-7), 3-2, in the NCAA regional semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
An early Cougars cross into the box was headed away by the Tar Heels, leading to the first corner opportunity of the game. A clean shot for Bella Folino developed, but UNC redshirt first-year Emmie Allen saved it with a dive. A retaliatory Tar Heel corner also produced a chance, but senior forward Isabel Cox’s shot could not penetrate the defense.
BYU’s offensive attack picked up steam following a flurry of chances for the Tar Heels, which was highlighted in the 13th minute when a pinpoint pass by Cox navigated between three BYU defenders and left junior midfielder Talia DellaPeruta one-on-one with the goalie. Then, she promptly tucked the ball near the right post and gave the Tar Heels a one-goal lead.
The Tar Heels would not be on top for long, though. With an open teammate to her right, BYU's Olivia Wade outran four converging UNC defenders and put the ball in the back of the net, which tied the game at one.
Following the equalizing goal, very few serious chances developed for either team. In the 40th minute, first-year forward Maddie Dahlien blasted a shot toward the goalie, but BYU's Savanna Mason punched the ball over the crossbar to keep both sides level heading into the break.
The Tar Heels resumed their aggressive offense to begin the second half, but the Cougars’ defense brigade continued to keep Mason clean. Each chance into the box was handled and cleared away by the BYU back line. After being out-possessed in the first half, UNC’s unrelenting attack kept the ball on BYU’s half of the field.
The Tar Heels finally cashed in 12 minutes into the second half. A shot into the box was punched out by Mason, but Dahlien was there on the rebound and rocketed the ball into the back of the net to put North Carolina up 2-1.
The Cougars' defense broke down after the goal. Just seven minutes later, Dahlien found herself at the top of the box again and jolted right, where she sent a low strike into the net to give the Tar Heels a 3-1 lead.
However, BYU answered quickly. On just its first shot in the half, Allie Fryer bent a shot from beyond the penalty area over the outstretched hand of Allen, keeping the Cougars in the game by bringing the score to 3-2.
But in the end, UNC’s defensive prowess was just too much for the Cougars to handle. BYU generated its last true scoring chance with five minutes remaining, but a shot from Fryer was saved by Allen, and UNC’s park-the-bus defense secured the win.
Who stood out?
Cox’s playmaking ability highlighted the first half of action. Her pass to DellaPeruta began the Tar Heels' attack on offense. With the Cougars playing staunch defense early on, the precise assist created the much-needed early score.
Dahlien scored her second and third goals of the tournament in the second half and was a weapon on offense all game, finishing with four shots.
When was it decided?
With BYU’s inability to get anything going in the second half, Dahlien’s second goal gave UNC a seemingly comfortable lead. The Cougars were outshot 11-4 in the half and could only cut the deficit in half.
Why does it matter?
The victory keeps the season alive for the Tar Heels, leaving them as one of eight teams remaining in the tournament. They are now one step closer to their 31st College Cup appearance.
After a disappointing ACC Championship loss, the win also marks the third consecutive game in the NCAA Tournament in which the Tar Heels scored three goals or more. They will need to continue this offensive pressure as they advance deeper in the tournament.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will play the winner of tomorrow’s TCU/Notre Dame game in the regional finals next weekend.
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