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Pursuing the 23 in '23: UNC women's soccer sets high goals ahead of 2023 season

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The UNC women’s soccer team huddling before the start of their exhibition game against the College of Charleston Cougars at Dorrance Field on Monday, August 7, 2023. The Tar Heels won 8-1.

23 in ‘23.

It’s a simple mantra the UNC women's soccer team has adopted that could have a bevy of meanings.

For veteran defender Maycee Bell, it's a reminder that she’s turning 23 this year.

On the soccer field, though, it represents the pursuit of the program’s 23rd national championship in 2023, after a 10-year championship drought. Most recently, the team fell 17 seconds short of winning it all last year, losing in overtime against UCLA in the national title game.

The 2023 national championship is still over 100 days away and, for now, the Tar Heels are taking it one day at a time.

“Obviously, a national championship is the goal,” Bell said. “But in order to get there, there are little milestones that we have to pass, so just making sure that we can focus on those and take care of every single day.”

UNC started its title chase this season, with preseason tune-up games against the College of Charleston on Aug. 7 and East Carolina on Aug. 12. The Tar Heels won these games 8-1 and 2-0, respectively.

Head coach Anson Dorrance showcased the team's new formation with three defenders. Fans witnessed the return of Bell to the field after a meniscus tear sidelined her last season. And next to her at center back? First-year defender Savy King.

“You can see already that Savy King is probably one to start at center back,” Dorrance said. “She’s an outstanding player.”

Aside from one defensive miscommunication that led to the College of Charleston goal, the defense held their opponents in check, limiting East Carolina to just 45 seconds in their attacking fourth of the field.

“I think we each bring different personalities and different qualities (to the field),” Bell said. “I might be a little louder than the first years but they’re going to make up for it with their speed. I think we complement each other really well and it’s going to be a great year for the backline.”

The new formation also saw four midfielders in the fold, including redshirt sophomore Ally Sentnor transitioning into a midfield role.

Despite moving to a less offensive role, Dorrance thinks Sentnor has the potential to match her season total in goals from last year as a forward. The Massachusetts native showed off in Monday's exhibition, scoring twice against College of Charleston on her four shot attempts.

“At the end of the day I’m really just going to do what’s best for the team,” Sentnor said. “If that means creating goals for other people or scoring goals, that’s good for me. I just want the team to do the best they can.”

Now that the tune-up games are finished, the Tar Heels have a loaded schedule ahead of them. 

UNC will face four top-25 teams in its nonconference schedule, including national semifinalist Alabama. North Carolina won't exactly get a break when conference play rolls around — the ACC hosts half of the top 10 teams in the nation.

“We’re excited about the caliber of schedule we’re playing,” Dorrance said. “If you look at our schedule, it’s basically the top 10 so we play some of the best teams in the country. We’re going to challenge our kids because we have some talent and hopefully by the ACC Tournament, we’re going to be in a position to challenge for postseason honors in both the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”

@thenoahmonroe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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