By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Coming off a frustrating road loss and facing a No. 13 Pittsburgh team off to the best start in program history, No. 5 Carolina showed that it’s still one of the country’s most dangerous women’s soccer teams.
UNC’s performance in a 4–0 win Thursday night at Dorrance Field to snap a five-game Panthers win streak was as dominating as Saturday night’s 2–1 loss at Virginia Tech was surprising.
“Obviously, that loss was hard for us,” said midfielder Sam Meza, who rocketed in UNC’s first goal. “We were a little hurt by it, obviously. We took a day to be upset about it. I think the team did a really good job of having a great attitude and energy this past week, and it showed in the game.”
The Tar Heels (10–3–0, 3–2–0 ACC) needed the feel-good rebound victory to stay in the upper half of the ACC standings and played beautifully in taking down Pittsburgh (11–2–0, 4–1–0).
“We used [the loss] as fuel, and this week our attitudes were so great,” said junior Talia Dellaperuta, who had a goal and an assist in her third game back after recovering from a knee injury suffered while being the captain of the U.S. U20 World Cup team in August.
“We push each other super hard, and we knew that we needed to get a result today,” she said. “We knew that it was going to take that response, and I think, as a team, we responded really well, and we came out with fire, and we won the game.”
The Panthers came in as the co-league leaders and No. 2 in the RPI but left feeling overmatched. They were scrambling on defense all night, giving up a season-high goal total and more goals than in the previous four games combined.
“We finished well,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “The problem we’ve had all season is dominating and not finishing well. So, today we finished well. But this is the potential of the team. The team has huge upside. And I really enjoyed watching us play.”
Dorrance said that there’s no question that the win could mark a turning point in the season. Even with him playing lots of reserves in the second half, the Tar Heels kept up the pressure instead of having another letdown after halftime, when eight of the nine goals they’ve given up have been scored.
“We attacked with variety,” Dorrance said. “If you look at the different ways we scored, that’s what we want. We don’t want to have a predictable attack because a team can sort out how to defend us. It bodes well for the fact that we’re going to be tough to close down. We’re going to be a very difficult team to play against if we continue to improve at the rate we are improving.”
He said the outstanding play of late from freshman forward Maddie Dahlien (top photo) and the performance of Dellaperuta have been two factors that have raised UNC’s level of play.
“She has huge upside, so I love seeing her emerge,” Dorrance said of Dahlien, “But also watching Talia Dellaperuta starting to get back to perform. She goes in with the reserve unit right now and stabilizes it in a very good way.”
After Carolina couldn’t convert on several golden chances while dominating the opening minutes, Meza made Pitt pay when it couldn’t clear the ball. She rocketed a shot from more than 20 yards out past three Pitt defenders — who were one behind the other — and into the goal in the 12th minute.
“It was kind of like slow motion. I looked up, and I just saw the goalie dive and the ball go in. It was awesome,” said Meza, who said it was probably one of her most high-velocity goals.
After a corner kick, Tori Hansen headed in Paige Tolentino’s cross into the back of the net in the 32nd minute, her fourth goal of the season and third on a header. Dellaperuta launched a shot in the left corner from 16 yards out six minutes later to give the Tar Heels a 3–0 halftime edge.
“Seeing her play so well and the quality of her goal was off the wall,” Dorrance said of Dellaperuta. “That was a right-hand corner blast that was fabulous.”
Dellaperuta said she’s starting to feel 100% healthy.
“It helps a lot more to come back and just to get the feel of the game speed again and getting to play a little more in the second half,” she said. “This was great, and obviously, to get a goal and an assist. I mean, my confidence is super-high right now.”
The frenetic UNC pace continued in the second half, and a goal fittingly came from Dahlien, who made smart plays all night. She took a long, leading pass that Emily Colton threaded past a Panther, sped by two defenders and beat the keeper one-on-one on a left-footed strike to the far right of the goal for her first college score.
“That’s track speed, baby,” Dorrance said of Dahlien’s goal. “The last four games she has been our best player. We gave her the start in the second half and with that goal she has won the start.”
UNC goaltender Emmie Allen, who made a nice save on Ashton Gordon’s second-half penalty shot, shut down Pitt with four saves before yielding to Marz Josephson in the 71st minute.
NOTES: The most goals an opponent had previously scored on Pittsburgh was in a 3–2 road loss to VCU, its only previous defeat. The Panthers are a win away from the most victories in program history. … UNC leads the all-time series with Pittsburgh 6–0, including 3–0 at Dorrance Field, and has outscored the Panthers 14–1. … Fifth-year forward Rachel Jones played in only her second game of the season after offseason surgery to repair a labrum tear. … Carolina continues its three-game homestand Sunday at 1 p.m. against N.C. State (7–4–3, 2–3–0 after losing Thursday at No. 17 Notre Dame 3–0) and Friday, Oct. 14, against Wake Forest (8–3–3, 2–4–0 after falling 2–1 Thursday at No. 7 Duke), its final regular-season home game. Both games will stream on ACC Network Extra (ESPN3). … UNC forward Tori Dellaperuta, Talia’s younger sister, is in Italy trying out for the Italian national team and missed her second consecutive game. She’ll also miss Sunday’s game. … The Tar Heels are one win shy of 400 all-time home victories combined at Dorrance Field, Fetzer Field, Finley Field and the soccer park in Cary.
No. 5 UNC 4, No. 13 Pitt 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. 8 Duke||Durham||6–1–0|
|11||Sunday||W, 2–1||Central Florida||Home||7–1–0|
|17||Saturday||L, 3–2||No. 11 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||W, 4–0||No. 19 Pittsburgh||Home||10–3–0,|
|9||Sunday||W, 2–0||N.C. State||Home||11–3–0,|
|14||Friday||W, 1–0||Wake Forest||Home||12–3–0,|
|20||Thursday||W, 2–1||No. 5 |
|23||Sunday||W, 4–0||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||14–3–0,|
|27||Thursday||W, 1–0||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||15–3–0,|
|3||Thursday||T, 0–0, 2 OTs (UNC advances 7–6 on PKs)||Semifinal vs. |
No. 8 Duke
|6||Sunday||L, 2–1||Final vs. No. 5 Florida State||Cary||15–4–1|
|12||Saturday||W, 5–0||First round: |
|17||Thursday||W, 3–1||Second round: Georgia||Chapel Hill||17–4–1|
|19||Saturday||W, 3–2||Third round: |
No. 15 BYU
|South Bend, Ind.||19–4–1|
|2||Friday||W, 3–2||Semifinals: No. 5 Florida State||Cary||20–4–1|
|5||Monday||L, 3–2, 2 OTs||Championship: No. 1 UCLA||Cary||20–5–1|
Photo of Maddie Dahlien courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications