Through four years with the team, senior midfielder Ernest Bawa knows one thing: when it comes to the postseason, the Tar Heels are a different team.
And on Wednesday, the team did look completely different when they routed Virginia Tech, 4-1, in their first-round ACC Tournament game. For a UNC squad that scored four total goals in its last six games against conference opponents, the tilt was an offensive outlier. Unsurprised, head coach Carlos Somoano said this change was simply the result of their “natural evolution."
“You feel like we're adding these little pieces all the time and even though they're just little pieces one at a time, they do add up over the course of the season,” he said.
UNC outshot Virginia Tech 18-8, and its 12 shots on goal are the most in a single contest for North Carolina in over two years. A big piece of that aggression in the attacking third came from graduate midfielder Quenzi Huerman, who recorded five shots.
Huerman sat out with an injury in Friday’s 1-0 loss against Virginia. Although the Tar Heels' leading goal-scorer only missed one game, Somoano said Huerman's return to the pitch as a vocal leader impacted the offense in a big way on Wednesday.
“It's crazy how different the aura and team dynamic is when he's not in,” Somoano said. “It's just so different."
After going down 1-0 in the game's opening minutes, Huerman answered in the 29th minute, collecting a rebound and firing a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal to tie the game.
Before Huerman's goal, Somoano said the team was playing tense and nervous. For a group that has been shut out in four of their last five games against ACC opponents, the goal relieved the nerves and opened up the floodgates.
“Yeah, we conceded early on," sophomore defender Charlie Harper said. "But it didn’t mean anything."