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UNC women’s soccer will seek to end the drought this year

Four years without a title is the longest the Tar Heels have ever gone without winning it all. Is this the year?

NCAA Soccer: Women's College Cup - West Virginia vs North Carolina Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Death, taxes, and the women’s soccer program at UNC. If you’re reading this, I probably don’t have to tell you about the place these Heels hold in history.

Just in case you didn’t already know, the Tar Heels have won 21 out of the 35 NCAA tournaments since 1982. That included nine straight from 1986 to 1994. They have never failed to qualify for a tournament and have reached at least the semifinals every year from 1982 to 2004.

The Tar Heels are the most successful collegiate program in women’s soccer history and one of the most successful collegiate programs in any sport, period. All that said, the Tar Heels haven’t won it all since 2012, when they were led by current USWNT members Crystal Dunn and Kealia Ohai. This isn’t a drought like the Chicago Cubs suffered from 1908 to 2016, but it is the longest in the program’s history.

If the Heels end the drought this season, it will be a triumph of perseverance. The Heels will only have five “home” games this year out of seventeen total due to construction at Fetzer Field. Instead, the Heels will host teams in Cary, North Carolina at WakeMed Soccer Park, the home of MLS hopeful North Carolina FC (formerly the Carolina RailHawks). The Heels will play four consecutive road games during conference play, but will wrap up their schedule with two games in Cary.

The Heels’ season will begin when they host the Carolina Nike Classic, which will also feature Duke, Xavier, and Grambling State. All matches will be played at WakeMed Soccer Park, with the season kicking off as the Heels meet Duke on August 18th at 6:00 PM. Although Duke is a conference opponent, this is a tournament, so the game is not considered a part of conference play.

Here are a few quick hits to get you ready for the season:

Returning player to watch: Forward Maddy Schultz. Schultz is a true sophomore but was the only Tar Heel to knock in three goals during last year’s NCAA tournament. Schultz has only been at Carolina since January of 2016, but she has already received praise from Dorrance: “Very good defensive presence. Good attacking instincts. She has a complete attacking game.” Look for her to only get better as she gets older.

New player to watch: Midfielder Emily Fox. Fox enrolled at Carolina early during spring 2017 and will bring a substantial amount of national team experience to the squad. Fox has been a member of the U-20 USWNT since 2015 and currently serves as that team’s captain, having played in both the 2015 continental championship for North America and the 2016 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup (where fellow Heels Taylor Otto and Jessie Scarpa also joined her). As a player who is already an experienced leader, it will be fascinating to see how she adapts to a new team.

Game to mark: UNC at Penn State, Thursday, September 7, at 7 PM. Penn State won it all in 2015 and will be the Heels’ last non-conference foe before entering ACC play ten days later against 2016 ACC Tournament champion Florida State. As a midseason game, it will be a fine test of how the Heels have adapted to playing at a temporary home, even though this will be an away game. UNC will try to bring home a win and some much-needed momentum before the conference gauntlet starts.

Number to know: 2. That’s the amount of redshirt seniors currently on the UNC squad—defenders Maya Worth and Maggie Bill (who also plays lacrosse at UNC). If the Heels fall short of the championship this year, these two will be the first two players in UNC’s history to exhaust their eligibility and still not win a title. Look for them to play hard all year.