UNC’s depleted defense comes through in a 1–0 women’s soccer win

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — From the start of the season, Coach Anson Dorrance said he had one of his deepest teams — except for his group of defenders. 

And that group keeps getting smaller.

After losing for the season star center back Macee Bell in the season opener and then Kayleigh Herr, her replacement, shortly afterward, the No. 2 Tar Heels persevered with defenders such as Julia Dorsey routinely playing all 90 minutes. 

Now an injury in practice has added Dorsey to the injury list. Like Bell and Herr, it’s a knee injury, but Dorrance hopes that Dorsey will be back before the end of the season.

Center back Tori Hansen, the heart of that defense, scored on a second-half penalty shot and left back Tessa Dellarose made several nice plays on defense to keep Carolina rolling. Hansen’s goal held up for a 1–0 senior night win over Wake Forest, the Tar Heels’ third consecutive shutout, despite star Sam Mesa playing only 26 first-half minutes.

“We’re limping along, and that’s certainly not good for us,” said Dorrance, who didn’t specify Mesa’s injury. “But when you lose three starting center backs and then lose your best midfielder, that’s certainly not going to be good for us. So I feel really good that we won the game.”

Carolina (12–3, 5–2 ACC), which has won three consecutive games for the first time since opening the season 5–0, hasn’t given up a goal in 275 minutes and 19 seconds. 

UNC redshirt freshman goalkeeper Emmie Allen didn’t make a save in earning her fourth shutout of the season, but the seven Wake Forest shots were the most by an opponent in the last five games.

Carolina and No. 12 Duke (10–4, 5–2) are tied for second place in the ACC with 15 points, trailing only league-leading No. 4 Florida State (10–1–2, 6–1,18 points). The teams with the top-two regular-season point totals earn first-round byes in the ACC tournament, which is limited to the top six finishers. That makes UNC’s 8 p.m. game at FSU on Thursday night (ACC Network) a big one.

Carolina needed the good defense after a season-low 10 shots, and the Heels were limited to one goal for the fourth time this season after losing two of the previous three. 

Abby Allen got her first start of the season, playing 59 minutes on defense, with reserve Emerson Elgin logging 31.

“It’s tough losing Maycee and then Kayleigh and now Julia, but every person that stepped in has done an incredible job,” Hansen said. “Abby and Emerson stepped in today, and they did fantastic. I think our communication is clearly very important when that rotation happens a lot. But I’m just very proud of the two that stepped in.”

Wake Forest (9–4–2, 3–4) kept it close but couldn’t capitalize on the few chances it generated, and Dellarose, a freshman who had only played forward before this season, was a big reason why, intercepting passes and disrupting the Deacons’ offensive flow.

“I can’t do the things that I do without my backline being behind me,” Dellarose said. “So, those interceptions and being able to get up is because my back line is shifting with me, and we’re all playing as a unit.”

For only the second time this season, and the first time in a win, an opponent possessed the ball more. Wake Forest had a 53%–47% edge after Virginia was the only previous team to outpossess UNC, resulting in a 3–2 Cavaliers win.

“It was rocky in there,” Dellarose said. “But credit to Wake, they did a good job playing their game.”

Abby Allen started 16 games last season but has been a reserve this season.

“When she came in this preseason, it was apparent she didn’t do the work in preparation for the season. So, she sort of lost her opportunity to start for us,” Dorrance said. “But she’s been working hard since, humbly working hard. And I thought her minutes were excellent. I thought she played very well. And then Emerson Elgin had a great week in practice.”

The game’s flow wasn’t what UNC is used to, thanks to stellar defense from Wake Forest.

“Even though they were in our end of it, they didn’t have any sort of clear chances,” Dorrance said. “We had more clear chances than they did to sort of put the game away. So, I certainly feel good about that.”

After Wake Forest’s Caiya Hanks knocked down UNC’s Maddie Dahlien in the box as she was coming close to the goal, Tori Hansen converted her second penalty kick of the season. Hansen slipped it to the right of  Deacons keeper Kaitlyn Parks in the 49th minute and is now 3 of 4 on career penalty kicks.

“PKs are something that has been a sore spot for me,” Hansen said. “The one that I did miss was tough. And so I think just going up there and being confident in myself was really important.”

Parks denied Rachel Jones a point-blank shot at the doorstep late in the first half in probably UNC’s best chance of a scoreless first half. Although the teams had possession an equal amount of the time, the Tar Heels dominated time in the opponent’s third of the field, 22%-8%.

NOTES — Carolina freshman forward Tori Dellaperuta is back after playing for the Italy U19 team but was out with a knee injury. … The Tar Heels got an ACC-season-high eight offside calls against them. The only higher number was 12 against Central Florida … UNC leads the all-time series with Wake Forest 34–2–2 (21–1–1 at home), with wins in the last nine meetings. … UNC’s Emily Colton was on the opposite side from her twin sister, Wake Forest’s Abbie Colton, for the first time. Both are sophomore midfielders, but Abbie didn’t play because of an injury. … Carolina honored seniors Hansen, Bell, Dorsey, Sarah Bayer, Isabel Cox, Aleigh Gambone, Rachel Jones, Marz Josephson, Libby Moore, Emily Moxley, Maggie Pierce and Madi Pry before the game.

No. 2 UNC 1, Wake Forest 0

ACC standings

Florida StateFlorida State186-1.85710-1-2.846W1
North CarolinaNorth Carolina155-2.71412-3.800W3
Notre DameNotre Dame124-2.66711-2.846W3
Virginia TechVirginia Tech103-3-1.5009-4-2.667T1
Wake ForestWake Forest93-4.4299-4-2.667L1
NC StateN.C. State62-4.3337-5-3.567L2
Boston CollegeBoston College31-5.1675-6-3.464L1
(current rank)
7SundayW, 5–0VCU HomeExhibition
13SaturdayW, 2–0BYUHomeExhibition
18ThursdayW, 3–0TennesseeHome1–0–0
21SundayW, 2–0UNCWHome2–0–0
25ThursdayW, 2–0TexasAustin, Texas3–0–0
28SundayW, 6–0BaylorAustin, Texas4–0–0
1ThursdayW, 3–1MissouriColumbia, Mo.5–0–0
4SundayL, 2–1No. 1 UCLAHome5–1–0
8ThursdayW, 3–0X-No. 8 DukeDurham6–1–0
11SundayW, 2–1Central FloridaHome7–1–0
17SaturdayL, 3–2No. 11 VirginiaHome7–2–0,
0–1–0 ACC
22ThursdayW, 1–0SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.8–2–0,
1–1–0 ACC
25SundayW, 3–0Boston CollegeHome9–2–0,
2–1–0 ACC
1SaturdayL, 2–1Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.9–3–0,
2–2–0 ACC
6ThursdayW, 4–0No. 19 PittsburghHome10–3–0,
3–2–0 ACC
9SundayW, 2–0N.C. StateHome11–3–0,
4–2–0 ACC
14FridayW, 1–0Wake ForestHome12–3–0,
5–2–0 ACC
20ThursdayW, 2–1No. 5
Florida State
Tallahassee, Fla.13–3–0,
6–2–0 ACC
23SundayW, 4–0MiamiCoral Gables, Fla.14–3–0,
7–2–0 ACC
27ThursdayW, 1–0LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.15–3–0,
8–2–0 ACC
NovemberACC tournament
3ThursdayT, 0–0, 2 OTs (UNC advances 7–6 on PKs)Semifinal vs.
No. 8 Duke
6SundayL, 2–1Final vs. No. 5 Florida StateCary15–4–1
NCAA tournament
12SaturdayW, 5–0First round:
Old Dominion
Chapel Hill16–4–1
17ThursdayW, 3–1Second round: Georgia Chapel Hill17–4–1
19SaturdayW, 3–2Third round:
No. 15 BYU
Chapel Hill18–4–1
26SaturdayW, 2–0Quarterfinals:
No. 4
Notre Dame
South Bend, Ind.19–4–1
DecemberCollege Cup
2FridayW, 3–2Semifinals: No. 5 Florida State Cary20–4–1
5MondayL, 3–2, 2 OTsChampionship: No. 1 UCLACary20–5–1
X — Non-conference game.

Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications


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