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The Daily Tar Heel

Preview: UNC women's soccer gearing up for a pivotal clash with No. 10 South Carolina


A goal attempt by now redshirt senior defender Maycee Bell (25) during the NCAA first-round game versus South Carolina at Dorrance Field on Nov. 13, 2021. 

The UNC women's soccer team is looking to win its own 'battle for Carolina' on Thursday. 

No. 3 North Carolina will look to beat South Carolina in a matchup with the 10th-ranked Gamecocks in Columbia at 7 p.m.

The motivation for this week’s blockbuster is the chance to avenge the team's shocking first-round exit in the 2021 NCAA tournament at the hands of the Gamecocks. The defeat was UNC head coach Anson Dorrance’s sole loss in the tournament’s opening stage in 40 appearances. 

After the Tar Heels settled for a second scoreless draw against Wisconsin, North Carolina has since ignited its formerly stagnant offense. Over its past three matches, UNC has outscored opponents 12-1 while notching resume-bolstering wins against No. 19 USC and No. 7 Arkansas. 

Here are three keys to preserving North Carolina’s undefeated record and notching another win over a ranked opponent:

Prioritizing shooting fundamentals and finishing

Since the draw against Wisconsin on August 24th, Dorrance has been adamant about sticking to the basics of effective shooting. After the game, Dorrance highlighted the bend of the ball as one of the essential features of successful goal-scoring and emphasized the efficacy of low, powerful strikes.

UNC implemented his advice well in the next game against Southern California, tallying four goals on the scoresheet, including two from first-year midfielder Evelyn Shores.

Capitalizing upon offensive opportunities will be paramount against a stubborn South Carolina backfield. Overseen by 2022 SEC Tournament MVP goalie Heather Hinz, the Gamecocks leaned on their keeper who recorded a clean sheet to knock UNC out of the NCAA tournament in 2021. 

Converting set pieces, creating breakaways and utilizing both sides of the pitch will be vital in North Carolina’s game plan to continue its offensive momentum. 

Limiting breaks to the net on defense 

UNC's defense is one of the best in the ACC, holding opponents to just 0.33 goals per contest. Despite conceding a season-high 10 shots against No. 7 Arkansas, the stalwart backfield prevented the Razorbacks from reaching the back of the net from the 23rd minute onward. 

The ACC and NCAA have not let these lockdown performances go unnoticed. UNC has claimed all three of the ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors thus far, with first-year defender Savy King recognized in weeks one and three and senior midfielder Sam Meza in week two. 

While undeniably consistent, the Tar Heel defense can elevate its identity even further by tightening up the midfield and proactively intercepting through-balls down the pitch. A lapse in the midfield resulting in a breakaway goal was the only blemish on a dominant showing against Arkansas. 

Diffusing attacks will lessen the burden on the back line against an active South Carolina offense that has recorded an SEC-leading 122 shots so far this season. 

Ball distribution and awarding the assist

UNC midfielder/forward, now senior, Avery Patterson (15) during the NCAA first-round game versus South Carolina at Dorrance Field on November 13, 2021.

It is no secret that more touches on the ball lead to higher-quality chances in the attacking third.

In a prolific five-goal effort against Gardner Webb, four goals were products of assists. From a crafty sequence of passes by a trio of Tar Heels, to a well-placed corner feed from senior forward Avery Patterson, the reliance North Carolina places on teamwork is evident through the methodical drives drawn up in practice and showcased. 

Boasting 16 assists up to this point, UNC must continue to spread the field in order to crack a seasoned Gamecock defense, headlined by numerous veterans including fifth-year defender Camryn Dixon.

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