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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's soccer defeats Towson, 3-1, in first round of NCAA Tournament

UNC sophomore forward Bella Sember (18) celebrates with her teammates after scoring UNC's first goal during their game against Towson in the first round of the NCAA Women's Soccer Championship on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 at Dorrance Field.

After losing its first match of the season in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the third-seeded North Carolina women’s soccer team (11-1-8, 5-0-5 ACC) bounced back to defeat CAA champion Towson (15-3-2, 9-1-2 CAA) 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night at Dorrance Field.

UNC improves to 24-1 in the NCAA first round and has outscored opponents 102-6.

The match was end-to-end straight from the kickoff. UNC squandered two golden chances one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the opening minutes. Senior forward Avery Patterson skied her shot from close range, and sophomore forward Tori DellaPeruta’s low shot was saved by Towson goalkeeper Riley Melendez well off her line.

With the help of a little luck, it was the Tigers who found the breakthrough in the 25th minute. Forward Jasmine Hamid dribbled into space near the top of the box before letting fly. Her shot glanced off a UNC defender high into the air and over redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Emmie Allen to make it 1-0.

“I think we realized that we needed to change our mentality,” redshirt senior defender Maycee Bell said. “I think we came in almost expecting to win, and they’re a very good team, and we can’t expect that. And so, after that first goal, I just brought everyone in, and I said ‘they want it more than us right now, and that’s not okay.’”

UNC nearly equalized in the 42nd minute when sophomore forward Maddie Dahlien played a square ball across the face of goal, looking for graduate forward Isabel Cox. But the pass was just beyond Cox’s reach and Towson remained in front.

But the Tigers weren’t in front for much longer.

Junior forward Bella Sember picked up the ball outside the top of the box with just over a minute to play in the first half. She created space with a step over and then placed the ball perfectly into the bottom corner, leveling the score at 1-1 with her second goal of the season.

The halftime scoreline reflected what was an even contest in the first 45. Towson outshot UNC 9-8, but the Tar Heels controlled 61 percent of the possession.

After the reserve unit played well in the first half, head coach Anson Dorrance decided to start five substitutes, including the goal scorer Sember and Dahlien, to begin the second half.

“The reserve team that came in stretched [Towson],” Dorrance said. “I think the decisions we made to start the kids who performed so well in the first half was good. And now everyone understands that everything is about performance. And if you perform well, we’re going to reward you.”

The Tigers almost retook the lead in the 52nd minute through leading goal scorer Nia Christopher. The ball came to her in the UNC six-yard box, and she did well to direct it towards Allen’s goal. Bell played hero, blocking the shot and keeping the match tied.

UNC was in front on the hour mark thanks to a sensational goal from redshirt sophomore forward Ally Sentnor. She picked up the ball on the edge of the box, used quick feet to maneuver past two Towson defenders and curled a perfectly-placed, left-footed shot into the far corner.

“The thing that separates [Sentnor] is her commitment to her craft,” Dorrance said. “She wakes up every morning, and she sorts out ‘what am I going to do today to get better?’”

The Tar Heel lead would have been two moments later if it weren’t for a brilliant save from Melendez, who stopped senior midfielder Talia DellaPeruta’s effort at full stretch.

North Carolina forced two more saves in quick succession around the 70 minute mark. Senior midfielder Sam Meza and sophomore forward Kate Faasse both were denied from close range, and the lead remained one.

The lead was finally two in the 84th minute through Patterson. Sentnor played a sublime, in-swinging ball from a corner, and Patterson finished with a perfectly placed header.

The Tar Heels controlled the play for much of the half after Sentnor’s goal. Towson couldn’t create any clear cut chances to equalize, and North Carolina didn’t allow a single shot in the second 45.

Sentnor was dangerous in attack all night long for the Tar Heels. Her eighth goal of the season and inch-perfect assist to Patterson proved to be the difference in the match.

“I think that was a really good game for us, to have to come back from being 1-0 down,” Sentnor said. “I’m really proud of the mentality of the people that started the second half, and we really took it to [Towson] in the second half.”

North Carolina advances to the second round to face Alabama next weekend. The Tar Heels and Crimson Tide played to a 1-1 draw in Tuscaloosa during the regular season.

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