By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — A North Carolina program that has won more than half of the NCAA women’s soccer titles is ready to reassert its dominance on the national stage.
After a 12-win total a year ago that was their lowest since 2011, the No. 10 Tar Heels took the first step Thursday night by knocking off No. 11 and SEC favorite Tennessee 3–0 at Dorrance Field before a nice opening-night crowd of 4,028. UNC’s eighth consecutive opening-game win came five days after a 2–0 exhibition win over No. 3 BYU.
“That’s a signature win,” said Coach Anson Dorrance, in his 44th season at UNC, who called the Vols an elite team. “That’s the sort of win that helps you get a high seed in the NCAA tournament because that is an excellent team. And they’re gonna beat some very good teams. And so not only the win but the margin of it [was impressive.].”
Carolina (1–0–0) played a back-and-forth first half with Tennessee (0–1–0) before the Tar Heels finally got a little bit of separation in the second half, allowing Dorrance to play 25 players. UNC outshot Tennessee 24–12, with 11 Tar Heels getting at least one shot.
Carolina broke through after Rudy Grant’s header bounded off the crossbar as Volunteers goalkeeper Ally Zazzara fell to the turf. Midfielder Aleigh Gambone stretched her right foot up high and pounced on it at close range at 38:13 for the senior’s first career goal.
“I thought that some of the chances we created throughout the game were the margin of victory,” said Dorrance, whose team clung to a 1–0 halftime edge. “We scored some nice goals, but also we created a lot of chances beyond the three we scored. And so that is encouraging considering the biggest issue we had last year was scoring goals.”
Senior defender Tori Hansen, who couldn’t connect on a couple of headers off set pieces in the first half, finally broke through at 65:41. Her header off a pass from Sam Meza slipped past Zazzara to make it 2–0 on her second career goal.
“A couple [header chances] trickled through during the first half, and I just missed about three of them,” Hansen said. “And I was so mad at myself at halftime, and I came out in the second half; I was like, ‘I cannot miss another header if I get one.’ And then Sam played a beautiful ball, and I just tapped it in.”
With the jumping ability of this season’s Tar Heels, Dorrance would like to take advantage of headers often this season, particularly from Hansen and senior defender Macee Bell.
“I think these are two of the better heading presences in the women’s collegiate game,” he said. “So, I’m so glad that we scored off of the header. We’ve got some girls who can really jump. So they’ve got to time it a little bit better. And I think we can do an even better job than we demonstrated in that game in the air.”
Junior forward Avery Patterson put an exclamation point on the night. She took a pass from sophomore forward Emily Murphy on a breakaway and beat Zazzara one-on-one by booting in a goal wide to her left at 77:41.
With a young roster that included 13 freshmen last season, UNC went 12–3–3, with all three losses coming by one goal, including the 1–0 defeat against South Carolina in the NCAA tournament. Although they lost veteran goaltender Claudia Dickey, a more experienced group expects more success despite only being picked to finish third in the ACC.
Two keepers split time trying to take over for Dickey (who won 52 matches over the previous four seasons) and did an excellent job of holding down a Tennessee offense that scored eight goals in two exhibition victories.
Redshirt freshman Emmie Allen started and made a nice point-blank save in the first half. Tennessee played impressively in transition and made some nice runs. But with Allen and the stellar play of Bell spearheading the defense, UNC was up for the task.
Senior Marz Josephson took over at keeper in the second half and was tested a few minutes in. But she tipped a Jordan Fusco shot just over the crossbar for a sensational save with UNC still only leading by a goal.
“I just saw the ball coming in; just kind of reacted,” Josephson said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was just glad that I was able to help the team keep the shutout that we all deserved.”
Dorrance was happy with both of his keepers, who each made four saves, and says a third keeper, freshman Nona Reason, will also play this season.
“They were both excellent,” Dorrance said of Allen and Josephson. “I’m proud of both of the goalkeepers. It was a world-class save from Marz, tipping it over the bar.”
Dorrance added that Josephson is battle-tested after competing with Dickey for three seasons.
“It was a tough loss for us tonight,” Tennessee coach Joe Kirt said. “We’re disappointed in the scoreline. We competed at a high level and created a number of quality scoring chances that we typically finish. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that tonight. Give credit to North Carolina; they were committed to getting numbers in the box and finished their chances.”
NOTES — Before the game, 19 seconds of silence were observed in memory of Stanford goalkeeper Katie Meyer (19 was her jersey number) on Mental Health Awareness Night. Meyer committed suicide earlier this year. … UNC has won six straight over the Vols and is 12–0–1 against them, with a 7-0 record in Chapel Hill. … UNC improved to 37–5–2 in season openers and 39–2–3 in home openers. … Meza went down after winning a header late in the match but walked off the field on her own after being slow to get up. … Bell was named Thursday as one of 60 Division I players on the Hermann Trophy watch list. The award goes to the national player of the year. … On Wednesday, Bell, and juniors Talia Dellaperuta and Sam Mezamade TopDrawerSoccer.com’s national Top 100 D1 Players to Watch Preseason list. … The Tar Heels return home Sunday at 1 p.m. to face UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks won their season opener 2–0 at home Thursday against Queen’s College.
No. 10 UNC 3, No. 11 Tenn. 0
|25||Thursday||W, 2–0||Texas||Austin, Texas||3–0–0|
|28||Sunday||W, 6–0||Baylor||Austin, Texas||4–0–0|
|1||Thursday||W, 3–1||Missouri||Columbia, Mo.||5–0–0|
|4||Sunday||L, 2–1||No. 1 UCLA||Home||5–1–0|
|8||Thursday||W, 3–0||X-No. 4 Duke||Durham||6–1–0|
|11||Sunday||W, 2–1||Central Florida||Home||7–1–0|
|17||Saturday||L, 3–2||No. 2 Virginia||Home||7–2–0,|
|22||Thursday||W, 1–0||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||8–2–0,|
|25||Sunday||W, 3–0||Boston College||Home||9–2–0,|
|1||Saturday||L, 2–1||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||9–3–0,|
|6||Thursday||7 p.m.||Pitt||Home||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|9||Sunday||1 p.m.||N.C. State||Home||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|14||Friday||7 p.m.||Wake Forest||Home||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|20||Thursday||8 p.m.||No. 7 |
|Tallahassee, Fla.||ACC Network|
|23||Sunday||1 p.m.||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||ACCNX (ESPN3)|
|27||Thursday||6 p.m.||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||ACC Network|
|30||Sunday||TBA||First round||Campus sites||TBA|
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications