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UNC women's soccer uses new formation in gritty 1-0 win over Virginia Tech

UNC sophomore defender Tessa Dellarose (34) strikes the ball against Virginia Tech on Friday, Sep. 15, 2023, at Dorrance Field.

By halftime, it was clear that something needed to change for the North Carolina women’s soccer team.

Throughout non-conference play, the Tar Heels' 3-2-2-3 formation had helped them outshoot opponents 180-43. But in a scoreless first half against Virginia Tech on Friday, the Hokies doubled North Carolina's shots, 8-4, marking the first time UNC had been outshot in a half this season.

Evidently, something wasn't working. So, instead of continuing their traditional formation, the Tar Heels began the second half in a 4-1-3-2. Over the next 45 minutes, UNC outshot Virginia Tech 13-0 en route to a 1-0 victory to open ACC play on Friday. Head coach Anson Dorrance said after the match that, given the formation's success, it could be North Carolina's new system.

Dorrance credited the adjustment to his assistant coach, Damon Nahas. UNC shifted its focus toward its offense at the half, giving some of its defensive players more flexibility in the midfield. One of the biggest adjustments was moving senior midfielder Sam Meza, who typically plays more of a defensive role, to central midfield. 

“She’s the kind of player that’s so skillful, that doesn’t need time and space to play,” Dorrance said. “You can surround her with opponents, and she’s so crafty and creative that she’s going to solve the problems for you. She’s got such an amazing defensive presence."

Meza, who won ACC Defensive Player of the Week earlier this season, was crucial to the Tar Heels' efforts in shutting down Virginia Tech in the second half. While Friday's second-half defensive stand helped North Carolina win the game, the impressive performance wasn't anything new — UNC has allowed just four goals this season.

“I think it’s just a standard,” Meza said. “We have class players on both sides of the field. Defensively, everybody wants to score on North Carolina. That’s a known thing. We make it aware that that’s the standard. Any shot is blocked."

While UNC's defense was flexible in supporting the formation, North Carolina's offense was aided by the shift in the second half.

Just as they have done all season, the Tar Heels opened up the second half by overloading the left side of the field with three players, including senior forward Avery Patterson. Minutes later, though, Patterson was no longer on the left touchline. Instead, she could be seen on the right side of the field near the corner flag, which she said speaks to the team's positionless style of play.

“I think it’s just a certain fluidity tactically,” Patterson said. “I think [redshirt sophomore midfielder Ally Sentnor] and I have a good relationship on and off the field where we allow each other to interchange, we just have to communicate. I definitely do a lot of fitness to enable myself to go to both corner flags.”

And, in the 67th minute, it was UNC's adaptability that allowed first-year midfielder Evelyn Shores to find the back of the net for the game's lone goal. 

From there, North Carolina never looked back.

As the Tar Heels approach a tough stretch of their season this week against No. 20 Virginia and No. 4 Florida State, it's unclear as to whether the new formation will replace UNC's old system that went undefeated in its non-conference slate.

But, if Friday was any indication, North Carolina's versatility can find ways to win in tight situations.


@dthsports |

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