By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Coming off an emotional victory against rival Duke, No. 2 Carolina couldn’t find the energy early for its last non-conference women’s soccer match and came out flat against an aggressive and rested Central Florida team.
Coach Anson Dorrance hoped to hold star midfielder Sam Meza out of the game, but that plan, which he called “a huge mistake,” got booted away 18 minutes into the match.
Meza immediately brought the energy, putting on some dazzling midfield moves and winning battles to help the Tar Heels (7–1–0) gain control and rally for a 2–1 victory Sunday at Dorrance Field behind goals from forwards Ally Sentnor and Avery Patterson.
“I just came out, trying to do everything that I can for my team,” Mesa said. “I just tried to come in with positive energy and stay true to myself and how I like to play.”
Dorrance and Meza agreed that it would be a good idea for her to sit out of the game to manage her minutes as she deals with minor shin splints. With the Knights controlling play, it suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea.
“She might be the best player in college soccer right now because, when she’s out there, no one can touch her,” Dorrance said, adding that she’s not one-dimensional. “It’s not like she’s just an attacking player. Defensively, she’s one of the greatest midfielders I’ve ever coached in my life.”
That would already be high praise considering the talent that has come through the Carolina program, but he included the four midfielders on the 1991 U.S. World Cup championship team he coached. That team included midfielders Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly.
“This is a player who can play at that level,” said Dorrance, who calls the 5–foot-2 junior “Mighty Mouse.”
It was suddenly difficult for Central Florida to maneuver around midfield or on Carolina’s end of the pitch.
“She basically takes the game by the throat and says, ‘Give me the ball; everyone get the hell out of my way,” Dorrance said. “And if you dare invade my territory. I’m stripping you. It’s not complex, and it’s not calming. It’s the gift of fury. It’s a territorial imperative. ‘I’m going to dominate any ball near me.’ “
Meza called her coach’s praise very kind but tried to deflect any talk about her and focus on the team.
“I don’t like a lot of attention,” she said. “For me, it’s a lot of just staying focused on myself and not paying attention so much to what others are saying because you can get a big head. I try to stay grounded to what’s going to help the team and not so much on what’s going to help me. And I think that’s what kind of helps me a little bit. It’s more for the team, and it just kind of elevates me, and it makes me better game by game.”
Sentnor said that the team fed off the energy that Meza brought off the bench.
“I think, especially defensively, she brings a lot of presence,” Sentnor said. “She’s got those Sammy-slide tackles. So those always bring energy when she wins those, and I think overall, though, our midfield just decided to really calm it down in the second half and at the end of the first half, and collectively, we decided that we needed to take control of the game.”
UNC gave up a first-half goal for the first time this season and trailed for only the second time. But, ultimately, Carolina’s forward depth was too much for UCF (2–2–2), who didn’t play on Thursday and came into the game with fresher legs. They did have some decent late scoring chances.
“I think it was tough because we were kind of on a high after that win,” Sentnor said. “But I was really proud of our team because we really grinded it out and put our heart into it and the last part of the first half and the end of the second half, so we really showed our Carolina spirit through the game.”
Central Florida forward Ellie Moreno became the first player to score on UNC red-shirt freshman goalkeeper Emmie Allen with a laser shot to her left in the 24th minute.
It was also the first time Carolina had given up a first-half goal or trailed before halftime, ending Allen’s shutout streak to start her career at 404 minutes. Entering the game, she was one of four Division I keepers who hadn’t given up a goal.
Carolina hasn’t been outshot this season, and the Knights didn’t change that, with the Heels owning a 15–7 edge and possessing the ball 58% of the game.
After being unable to finish and hesitation at times, leading to eight offside calls, Sentnor finally tied it in the 44th minute to send the game into halftime tied. Sentnor buried a left-footed shot to the right of Knights goalkeeper Caroline Delisle off of an Emily Murphy assist.
Read about the humble beginnings of the Carolina women’s basketball programs, from coaches driving teams to games to playing and practicing in a dangerously gym, the program has come a long way. Learn interesting stories about the program in this Tar Heel Tribune story.
“It was a great quick pass from our outside forward, and I just beat the defender, and I think my teammates’ run cleared space for me,” Sentnor said. “So, team effort overall, but it was exciting to get a goal again.”
Sustained UNC second-half pressure paid off when Patterson rocketed a shot to the right corner of the net from the left side on a tough angle in the 59th minute for her team-leading sixth goal.
“As the game wore on, we had more and more domination, more and more possession and more and more chances, and I think that’s a credit to our depth,” Dorrance said.
NOTES: UNC junior forward Talia Dellaperuta, who hasn’t played this season, will test her quad and hamstring strength on Monday. If all goes well, she will begin training this week. … UNC is 28–3 against its last 31 non-ACC opponents. … Carolina has outshot its opponents 154–49 in the first seven matches. … Carolina, which won 3–0 at Duke in a non-conference game Thursday, gets five days off before opening ACC play at Dorrance Field on Saturday at 6 p.m. (ACC Network Extra). … Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, in her 10th season at Central Florida, played for Dorrance at UNC from 1995 to 1998. Her husband, Tim Sahaydak, a former UNC player, is the associate head coach. … Knights sophomore midfielder Annika Huhta played at Carolina as a freshman. … UNC leads the all-time series with UCF 19–1–4. In the previous meeting in 2017, UCF trailed 1–0and won 2–1.
No. 2 UNC 2, UCF 1
|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|
Sam Meza photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications