The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

'We're a different team': UNC men's soccer wins 4-1 in first round of ACC Tournament

The UNC men's soccer team sways during the alma mater after the game against Virginia Tech on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023 at Dorrance Field. UNC won 4-1 and will advance to the next round of the ACC Tournament.

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."

UNC needed just three more shots for a second goal to go in. Capitalizing off a turnover, Bawa dribbled to his right and fired the ball from outside the box just past the Hokie goalkeeper. The offensive outburst by the Tar Heels affected Bawa most of all — he finished the day with two goals, the first brace of his long career at UNC.

Despite being a defender, Harper got in on the action. He found the ball at his feet after a corner kick and banged home his first career goal to put UNC up 3-1 in the 68th minute. In celebration, he ran over to the sideline, where the entire bench surrounded him.

“For me, I don't think I've been happier to celebrate somebody else's goal,” Bawa said. 

While the offensive outbreak is an encouraging sign for a team that still sits in the middle of the ACC with 25 total goals, how UNC follows up this performance will determine its future in the ACC Tournament and beyond.

And if Wednesday night was any indication, the Tar Heels could be peaking at just the right time.

“Carlos [Somoano] always says it,” Harper said, “But come postseason, we’re a different team and we’re hungrier than any team in the country.”


@dthsports |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.