By R.L. Bynum
North Carolina’s women’s soccer season started just like most of Coach Anson Dorrance’s previous 43 seasons — with a decisive victory.
The Tar Heels’ 4–1 victory at Dorrance Field over Wake Forest on a soggy evening in Chapel Hill, their 14th consecutive ACC victory, wasn’t as significant as what happened before the game. The majority of the team knelt during the national anthem and there also was a moment of silence in support of social justice efforts before the game.
“Black lives do matter,” Dorrance said. “And I think sport can be an incredibly positive environment for social change because these wonderful Black athletes do have a statement of what’s happening within all the different cultures across the face of the earth.”
The actions were from the heart considering Dorrance has Black players on the team, including junior co-captain Rachel Jones, who scored twice and notched an assist.
“I think during the whole preseason on, my team has really rallied around me,” said Jones, who swiped the ball away from the Wake Forest goalie and scored feet away from the goal line for her first goal and added a penalty-kick goal in the second half. “They realize that there is a lot of stuff going on in regards to racial justice and they understand that I’m more than just an athlete.”
There have been challenges for the most storied program in women’s college soccer in 2020. But the racial injustice and the politics of 2020 also captured a lot of the team’s focus.
“Obviously for all of us that care about humanity, the George Floyd incident was just horrific. And I have a lot of great Black athletes on my team,” said Dorrance, who noted that Jones’ ultimate ambition is to be on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dorrance assigned various books depending on the players’ year in school, but everybody on the team read How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
“This is a very socially conscious team,” Dorrance said. “Certainly, I am very conscious of the fact that I live under the incredibly protective umbrella of white privilege. And in reading that book with my team, and my Black athletes, I thought it was very meaningful.
“And we have committed to be social justice warriors in a positive sense, but we’re also not going to take away anyone else’s difference of opinion,” Dorrance said, noting that some of his players were standing during the anthem. “They were standing, hopefully for all the right reasons. Christianity. The flag. There are certainly a lot of very good reasons to stand. That’s what I like about the athletic movement.”
This is an odd season for a program that routinely advances to the Women’s College Cup but knows that there will be no NCAA title given, at least in 2020. The Tar Heels are trying not to worry about that, even as the sting of losing a 0-0 national-championship game last season on penalty kicks to Stanford ended a fine 24-2-1 season.
“We are just trying to get in as many games for our seniors before they go, so we’re just focusing on each game as it comes,” Jones said. “We’re sad that there won’t be a College Cup but we’re hopeful there will be one in the spring.”
Like all fall sports, there were doubts about whether there would be a season at times and plenty of challenges because of COVID-19.
“Especially during the beginning of the preseason, it was difficult because we didn’t know if we were going to have any games at all,” Jones said. “I think that COVID has brought us closer as a team and made us realize that we needed to take advantage of every opportunity that we got, whether it’s practice or if we’re gonna get games. Like we saw in the spring, they just woke up one day and they didn’t have any more games. We just knew that no matter what the season brings we don’t want to have any regrets. So, every day we have to attack.”
Dorrance appreciated the extended preseason practice and said that it was particularly helpful for the freshmen. At one point, a COVID-19 issue in Avery Dorm, which housed all of the team’s freshmen, led the program to have to split up the training for two weeks between the freshmen and the upperclassmen.
He admitted that, at one point, he didn’t think there would be a season. He felt terrible for the women’s lacrosse team, which was No. 1 in the country when its season stopped in the spring.
“Despite the death and the destruction of our economy and the fact that we might have an authoritarian government if Trump doesn’t believe that the vote count is proper, I still appreciate the fact we have a season,” Dorrance said.
Brianna Pinto, who played at Jordan High School in Durham, made good on her promise of a goal in the opener to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead at 21:41. After leading 2-1 at halftime, UNC pulled away with Jones’ penalty-kick goal at 57:16 and Hallie Klanke’s score at 68:48.
UNC (1-0) moved to 33-2-2 all-time against Wake Forest (0-2), which lost 4-3 in a non-conference overtime game against Duke in its opener.
The Tar Heels (1-0) are back at home Sunday at 11 a.m. against Virginia Tech (0-2).
North Carolina 4, Wake Forest 1
21:42 UNC Brianna Pinto (1), assisted by Rachel Jones
23:05 UNC Rachel Jones (1)
34:03 WFU Sophie Faircloth (1)
57:15 UNC Rachel Jones (1)
68:48 UNC Hallie Klanke (1), assisted by Aleigh Gambone
Photos by Jeff Camarati/UNC Athletics